Uruguay is just one step away from becoming the first country in Latin America to legalize marijuana. On Tuesday, the Senate is to vote on a historic bill that would regulate the production and sale of cannabis for adults at a price of $1 per gram.
The legislation, put forward by President Jose Mujica, was approved by the lower chamber of congress in late July. It is believed that the bill’s passage through the Senate is almost certain given that Mujica supporters, the leftist Broad Front hold the majority in the upper chamber.
The measure is meant as a social experiment aimed at reducing drug-related crime. For over a year, president Mujica, 78, has been actively campaigning for the law that will give the government control and regulatory power over the entire chain from the production and harvesting to the sale and consumption of pot.He has also urged foreign governments to support the move.
“We are asking the world to help us with this experience, which will allow the adoption of a social and political experiment to face a serious problem – drug trafficking,” he said in an interview with Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo. “The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves.”
The President stressed that Uruguay will not become the land of “free marijuana,” adding that the government plans to regulate a market that already exists. “We can’t close our eyes to it. Repression has failed,” Mujica said.
He also said that the government planned to imprint a singular genetic code in the plants to restrict the circulation of unlicensed marijuana in the country.
In the event the regulations do not work and the experiment is judged a failure, the government will reverse its decision, the Uruguayan president pointed out.
The initiative has stirred up debate within the small South American country. A poll carried out in September found 61 percent of those surveyed do not approve, reported AFP. The bill has also raised questions by some neighboring states like Brazil who fear that Uruguay’s cannabis may find its way into their territory – where marijuana is illegal.
On Monday, a Uruguayan conservative opposition lawmaker demanded a referendum on the matter, reported The Guardian. Gerardo Amarilla, of the National Party, insisted that it is up to citizens to decide on the way to tackle the drugs market. “Public perception, reflected in public opinion polls, is that this measure is the wrong way to address a serious problem,” he is quoted as saying.
Opponents of the initiative also fear that illegal competition could undercut state prices, from which revenues will be needed to fund expensive and complex regulation, writes the Financial Times. If the official price is too low, it will not only increase consumption, but also allow black market dealers to buy cheap pot and then re-sell it at a profit.