Here in the U.S., we hold up Colorado and Washington as being models of future marijuana policy. Where they legalized recreational marijuana, creating regulated and taxed systems, the majority of states are still trying to determine how to implement medicinal pot. In Uruguay, however, lawmakers have taken one big step towards creating a nationwide regulated marijuana industry, and they’ve done it despite the resistance of the people.
In Uruguay last month, members of the lower house of parliament passed a bill that could create the world’s first such nationwide regulated marijuana market, on a vote of 50-46. Next the bill will head to upper house later this year where it is expected to pass if the current momentum sustains.
The bill will create a system where residents can grow and possess marijuana, though they would be limited to purchasing 40 grams per month and could grow up to 6 plants at a time. It would establish marijuana growing collectives and dispensaries. Unlicensed possession or cultivation (black-market pot) would result in criminal charges, as it does now.
Supporters say the legislation is the answer to the marijuana black market, which helps to fuel violent drug gangs.
President Jose Mujica unveiled the bill last year but postponed a vote on it until he could gain support with a Responsible Regulation campaign. Still, in the weeks leading up to the vote and ultimate passage, public opinion remain opposed to the idea.
“The regulation is not meant to promote consumption, consumption already exists,” lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said before the vote, introducing the bill before it went through 12 hours of debate.
Marijuana use in Uruguay has doubled in the past 10 years, according to legalization supporters there. This could be the first step in lessening the role organized crime plays in its trade.
“Sometimes small countries do great things,” said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Uruguay’s bold move does more than follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington. It provides a model for legally regulating marijuana that other countries, and US states, will want to consider — and a precedent that will embolden others to follow in their footsteps.”