Uruguay: Marijuana law gets boost in presidential vote

Story highlights

  • Tabaré Vazquez wins Uruguay's presidential vote
  • The leftist leader's win means the country's social policies will likely continue
  • Vazquez has said he'll enforce the new law legalizing the marijuana market
  • His opponent had vowed to repeal parts of the controversial legislation

(CNN)Uruguay's politicians who led the charge to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage appeared to win another ringing endorsement from voters in the South American country Sunday.

The country's electoral court announced that Tabaré Vazquez of the left-wing Broad Front coalition won the presidential runoff with about 53% of the votes. Candidate Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative National Party told supporters Sunday evening that he had conceded to Vazquez and wished him well, as exit polls predicted defeat. He garnered about 40% of the vote.
    Vazquez's victory gives Uruguay a third consecutive five-year term with a leftist leader at the helm.
    President Jose "Pepe" Mujica -- a former Marxist guerrilla who donates the majority of his salary, drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle and sells flowers with his wife at their home -- leaves office next year.
    Vazquez, a 74-year-old oncologist, was Uruguay's President from 2005 to 2010.
    "Uruguayans again have said 'yes,' yes to more freedoms and more rights, better democracy and better citizenship," he said in a televised speech Sunday.
    Under Mujica's leadership, the Broad Front has pushed through reforms legalizing abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana -- major policy shifts in a region once defined by conservative policies influenced by the Roman Catholic Church.
    The changes have given Uruguay, formerly a military dictatorship, a reputation in Latin America as a leading nation for liberal social policies.
    And that approach isn't likely to change, if Vazquez's "Uruguay doesn't stop" campaign slogan is any indication.
    This year the South American nation became the first in the world to have a system regulating the legal production, sale and consumption of marijuana.
    Lacalle had vowed to repeal some parts of the new law if he were elected.
    Vazquez, a doctor who crusaded against tobacco during his first term as President, has expressed some concerns about the new marijuana law, but said he plans to enforce it. Still, Uruguay's El Pais newspaper recently reported that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of modifying it.
    "There will be a strict and very close evaluation about the impact that this law has on society. We are going to analyze it very carefully. And if at any moment we see that it does not work, we will not hesitate for a moment in making the necessary corrections," he said, according to El Pais.