Uruguay has become the first country in the world to take the bold step to create a legal national market for marijuana.
After 13 hours of passionate debate the country’s Broad Front coalition approved the proposal in the lower house of Congress just before midnight on Wednesday.
It now goes before the Senate, which is expected to approve the measure to set the rules for the production, distribution and sale of cannabis for adult consumers.
The idea is to put the state at the centre of the legal marijuana industry, displacing illegal dealers through licensed sales that could save money and lives.
Under the legislation, Uruguay’s government would license growers, sellers and consumers, and keep up a confidential registry to prevent people from buying more than 40 grammes a month.
Growing or selling marijuana without a licence could bring prison terms, but licensed consumers could grow up to six plants at a time at home.
Growing clubs with up to 45 members each would be encouraged, fostering enough marijuana production to drive out unlicensed dealers and draw a line between marijuana smokers and users of harder drugs.
The momentum towards legalization has been building across the Americas, with several states in the US voting to decriminalize cannabis use. But the issue remains one that few serving politicians dare to support in public for fear of moral backlash.
Fewer still argue the logical next step, as set out in last September’s issue of New Internationalist: the case for controlling all drugs by legalizing all of them. For more on that see:
Legalize drugs – all of them!
What would legalization look like?
Podcast - Vanessa Baird on legalizing drugs