Uruguay Becomes First Country To Legalize Marijuana

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Uruguay became the first country late Tuesday to legalize the sale, distribution and production of marijuana, in a move aimed at curbing violence from the illicit drug market.

“Today there is a market dominated by drug traffickers. We want the state to dominate it,” bill co-sponsor Julio Bango told the Associated Press.

Now that the Senate and House have passed the measure, individuals in the small country of 3.3 million can access marijuana either by growing their own, joining a licensed cooperative, or obtaining it through a licensed pharmacy. The bill prohibits sales to minors, driving under the influence, and advertising. President Jose Mujica has been a strong proponent of the bill arguing that legal sales will “spoil” the black market by selling it a lot cheaper, although he said he personally hates pot and has never smoked it. Possession of all drugs was already legal in Uruguay.

The ballot initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington envision similar systems, but these laws hang under the cloud of a federal ban on marijuana. Other countries have loosened criminal punishment on drugs in varying ways. In the Netherlands, for example, marijuana is illegal, but the country has implemented a tolerance policy for small-scale possession and sale via licensed “coffee shops,” while cultivation and supply are unprotected. Portugal abolished criminal penalties for possession of all drugs in 2001, and refers those arrested for addiction assessment. Possession has been decriminalized in several other Latin American countries, including Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador.

Uruguay’s move comes as world leaders, particularly in Latin America, increasingly move toward alternatives to the failed War on Drugs. At the urging of several Latin American leaders, the United Nations agreed to reconsider the international drug policy position. A leaked U.N. draft document that aims to set this new policy suggests that many U.N. member states are urging a departure from the criminal prohibition position that has long dominated international policy. A May report by the Organization of American States, whose members include most western hemisphere nations, touted the potential benefits of drug legalization. And last month, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan co-authored an op-ed with former Brazil President Fernando Henrique Cardoso last month calling for an end to criminalization of drug use.

Uruguay has 120 days to implement regulations before the law goes into effect.