LATIN AMERICA

Uruguay reveals plan to legalize marijuana

Proposal has been criticized by the opposition and drug addiction treatment centers Some 150,000 Uruguayans - five percent of the general population - consume marijuana

Uruguay wants to give the government control of the production and sale of marijuana.
Uruguay wants to give the government control of the production and sale of marijuana.REUTERS

Uruguay last week became the first Latin American country to propose legalizing marijuana. President José Mujica presented a bill to Congress that would give the government full control to regulate the production and sale of the narcotic through a state monopoly.

Mujica's proposal has not only been criticized by the opposition and drug addiction treatment centers, but has also ignited renewed debate across the region, where several leading politicians have called for new ways to combat the drug-trafficking problem in their countries.

"The sale of this drug brings in about $75 million [47 million euros] annually," said Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, referring to the illegal sale of marijuana in his country.

Some 150,000 Uruguayans - five percent of the general population - consume marijuana regularly.

"This money is laundered through various forms of financial services and it is going to affect the banks. This type of corruption is affecting Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, on a greater scale, and now it is coming to Ecuador and Brazil. We don't want our country to follow this route," the minister added.

Uruguay is one of the few Latin American nations where drug use isn't penalized; however, judges have full discretion to determine what amounts can be considered appropriate for personal use as opposed to drug trafficking.

Other bills

Some opposition parties have submitted proposals that support the private harvesting of marijuana plants, but Mujica has rejected these bills because he says the state would not have control. It would also turn Uruguay into a regional center for cannabis use and cultivation, the president says.

Uruguay wants to make the legalization of marijuana part of its foreign policy initiative to promote new ways of combating drug trafficking. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has supported Mujica's proposal but Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos is against it.

Two years ago, the former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia - Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ernesto Zedillo and César Gaviria, respectively - came out in favor of decriminalizing drug use and legalizing marijuana.

Ecuador's new Constitution, passed in 2008, legalized drug consumption but lawmakers still have to pass a bill to regulate it.

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