The passage of a landmark marijuana legalization measure Tuesday means Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to have a system regulating legal production, sale and consumption of the drug.
It’s practically a done deal. President Jose Mujica has to sign the bill before it becomes a law. But he’s long backed the measure, and there’s little doubt that he remains behind it.
Applause and cheers rang out in Uruguay’s Senate on Tuesday after the high-profile vote at the end of a lengthy debate on the bill.
Supporters of the proposal have said it marks a turning point and could inspire other Latin American nations to take a similar approach.
It places the South American country at the vanguard of liberal drug policies, surpassing even the Netherlands, where recreational drugs are illegal but a policy of tolerance is in place.
“It is understood that a regulation-based policy has positive consequences for health and public security, given that, on the one hand, it can produce better results when it comes to education, prevention, information, treatment and rehabilitation in relation to the problematic uses of drugs,” said Sen. Roberto Conde of Uruguay’s Broad Front coalition, which supported the measure. “On the other hand, it helps fight drug trafficking, which fuels organized crime and criminal activities that affect the security of the population.”
Critics said legalizing marijuana could have dangerous consequences.
“This bill, which proposes an experiment in social engineering, as it was described in the public health commission, does not comply with any of the ethical safeguards of experimentation with human beings,” said Sen. Alfredo Solari of the Colorado Party. “Those safeguards are extremely important … given that we’re talking about marijuana, a substance that harms human beings.”
A letter sent by Mujica’s government to lawmakers last year presented the bill.
He told CNN en Español last year that he supported legalizing marijuana.
“If we legalize it, we think that we will spoil the market (for drug traffickers) because we are going to sell it for cheaper than it is sold on the black market,” he said. “And we are going to have people identified.”
Conservative critics of the measure have said it promotes drug addiction and have suggested that Mujica’s comments were uninformed.