Uruguay Likely to Legalize Marijuana

The term "drug dealer" usually brings to mind secretive exchanges performed in dark alleys, away from the gaze of law enforcement. But what if the government became your drug dealer? That's about to happen in Uruguay.

Just before midnight on Wednesday, the lower house of the Uruguay Congress voted in favor of a bill to put production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the hands of the state. The debate leading up to the decision was 13 hours long. The bill is now on its way to the senate, and if it passes as expected, it will make Uruguay the first country to legalize marijuana.

Beau Kilmer, a director at the RAND Drug Policy Research Center in California, said that a country giving the state control of production is “unprecedented.”

The legislation would allow Uruguay's government to license growers, sellers, and consumers, as well as maintain a registry to prevent people from buying more than 40 grams per month. People could even purchase marijuana in pharmacies. Clubs for self-growers with up to 45 members each would be encouraged, since the government believes that it could create enough marijuana production to drive out unlicensed dealers.

Uruguay's legalization bill has been framed as an innovative approach to fighting narcotics-related crime, reducing health risks for consumers, and distinguishing marijuana from other hard drugs.

However, the bill does face popular opposition in Uruguay. A recent poll found that roughly two-thirds of the country does not support the initiative. But supporters of the bill emphasize that any kind of marketing of marijuana would be prohibited under the new law, and promise that proceeds from the sale of the drug would be directed toward educational and health institutions with the aim of informing potential users marijuana and preventing addiction.

Here's a clip from Euronews about Uruguay's history-making legal move: