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Uruguay legalization bill: A growing Latin America trend

By Tony Newman, Drug Policy Alliance

The president of Uruguay submitted a proposal to Parliament Aug. 8, 2012 to legalize marijuana under government-controlled regulation and sale. This would make it the first country in the world in which the state sells cannabis directly to its citizens. The proposal, signed by President José Mujica, is part of a package of measures aimed at fighting crime and still requires parliamentary approval.

Despite Uruguay being one of the safest countries in Latin America, it has seen an increase in crime from drug gangs due to its position on a drug-transit route to Europe via West Africa. The aim of the proposal is to remove the profits of can­na­bis sales from drug gangs, separate the market from those for other illegal drugs, and avoid cannabis consumers’ exposure to drug dealers who also sell coca paste, cocaine, etc. Additionally, the revenue from cannabis sales will be invested into treatment for problem drug users.

The single article of the proposal states that the government “will assume the control and the regulation of the activities of importation, production, acquisition of any title, storage, marketing, and distribution of marijuana and its derivatives” and that these activities “must be exclusively realized in the framework of a harm reduction policy.”

Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said, “With this bold proposal, President Mujica is taking a key leadership role in the drug policy reform debate. He has joined the increasing calls for an end to the war on drugs from Latin American leaders — including presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina), Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), Otto Perez Molina (Guatemala), and Rafael Correa (Ecuador). Mujica has taken it one step further by proposing a concrete policy alternative.

“After Alcohol Prohibition was repealed 79 years ago in the US, differing alcohol policies were enacted at the state level, from privatized sale with minimal regulation to state monopolies. Similarly, there is no one optimal marijuana model. Uruguay needs to find the model that works best for Uruguay.”

Successful models of marijuana reform can already be found in various countries, such as Portugal’s decriminalization, the Netherlands’ cannabis coffee shops, Spain’s social clubs, and the US’s medical marijuana dispensaries. Decriminalization bills are under debate in Chile, Brazil and Belize.

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