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Uruguayan government proposes marijuana legalization bill

The government in Uruguay say the war on drugs has failed and have presented a bill legalizing the drug in the hope of controling its use.

Story highlights

  • The Uruguayan government presented lawmakers with a bill this week
  • It would allow the government to control and sell marijuana
  • The bill did not specify how such a system would work

With the intent of undermining the market for illegal drugs, Uruguay's government presented a bill to lawmakers that would legalize marijuana under a government monopoly.

The government of President Jose Mujica has argued that the war on drugs has failed, and that separating the market for marijuana from the market for harder drugs will have social and health benefits.

The bill was presented to congress on Wednesday, and includes no details of how legalization would be cultivated, regulated or sold. But it makes it clear that the government would be the sole manager of the "importation, production, acquisition ... commercialization and distribution of marijuana or its derivatives."

The idea was first announced in June, and at the time there were reports that such a law would require onerous identification and tracking requirements that consumers would object to.

Read more about how Brazil is fighting the war on drugs

The bill does not mention any requirements, presumably leaving it up to the congress to fill in the details.

Diego Canepa, pro-secretary of the presidency, said that current laws criminalizing the private sale of marijuana would remain in place, and campaigns warning of dangers of drug use would continue.

"No one is saying that marijuana is good. What is happening is that the foundation of the type of policy that we have followed for more than 50 years in this country have not had the expected results, and the worst thing that can happen to public policy is to not act when the evidence shows that persisting on the same path will not obtain different results," he said.

Consumption of marijuana is already legal in Uruguay, Canepa said. If passed, the law would make Uruguay the first country to produce and sell marijuana to its citizens.

While the bill itself was short on details of how such a system would actually work, it was accompanied by a 12-page letter that carefully laid out the argument for passage of the bill.

The goal is to create a government-run market that would "contribute to the reduction of risks and potential dangers that people who use marijuana for recreation or medical reasons face."

Read: Is Puerto rico the forgotten front in America's drug war?

Marijuana users put themselves in dangerous situations in the course of acquiring the substance, and expose themselves to other drugs that are more addictive and dangerous, the letter states.

The letter traces the history of drug use to pre-Columbian times, but focuses on the drug war of the last 50 years. The war on drugs has failed and had consequences that are worse than the drugs themselves, the letter states.

As evidence, the Uruguayan government points to a report last year by the Global Commission on Drugs, a body made up of several former presidents and other luminaries, who concluded that the war on drugs has failed to accomplish the goals it set.

Uruguay will not abandon its policy of combating drugs, but will do so through education of the harmful effects, rather than criminalization for marijuana, the letter states.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in Uruguay, and drug traffickers net $30-40 million annual from the black market, the government said.

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