Uruguay’s lower house approves legal regulated marijuana

Uruguay’s lower house approves legal regulated marijuana

MONTEVIDEO – Agence France-Presse
Uruguay’s lower house approves legal regulated marijuana

Youngsters wait outside the Parliament building (background) while lawmakers debate the bill legalizing marijuana, in Montevideo, on July 31, 2013. AFP Photo

Uruguay’s lower house on July 31 approved a controversial bill which for the first time would put a government in charge of production and distribution of legal marijuana.

The bill, unveiled in June 2012 as part of a series of measures to combat rising violence, now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Lawmakers argued for 14 hours before approving the text with 50 votes in favor out of 96.

“The regulation is not meant to promote consumption,” lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said at the beginning of the session. “Consumption already exists,” he argued.

NGO workers favoring regulation of legal marijuana had filed into the chamber’s visitors’ galleries as lawmakers emphasized that the drug business finances organized crime.

The bills backers also argued that marijuana use had doubled in the last ten years in the small, mostly rural South American country of 3.4 million.

President Jose Mujica’s leftist government has backed the bill. He himself is a doctor by training. However, all the opposition parties oppose the proposed law.

Gerardo Amarilla of the opposition National Party, listing marijuana’s effects on health, said the project was “playing with fire.”

The measure specifies that the government would assume control and regulation of the importation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, acquisition, storage, marketing and distribution of marijuana and its derivatives.

After registering, users would be able to cultivate up to six plants, gain access to the drug as part of a marijuana-growing club; or purchase up to 40 grams per month at a dispensary.