Uruguay Weed Legalization Isn't Just a Toking Gesture

Wednesday night Uruguayan legislators attempted the unthinkable — federally legalized marijuana. And they did it. Well, kind of. 

The legislation, which has been in the works for over a year, was passed in Uruguay's lower house. But many have assured Uruguayan President José Mujica that the legalization bill will fly through the Senate as well.

President Mujica, the legislation's biggest advocate, has argued that legalizing marijuana will finally allow the state to profit from and regulate the multimillion-dollar industry. In 2012 he told CNN en Español, "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."

In the proposed new system, Uruguayans 18 or older would purchase marijuana from a pharmacist. They would be required to register their names into a confidential database, then only allowed 40 grams of marijuana. The law only applies to those 18 or older, and only to Uruguayan citizens. 

But opponents of the bill, mostly Uruguayan conservatives, say that marijuana legalization encourages not only consumption, but addiction as well. And like a scene straight out of Dragnet, some argue that legalization will ruin Uruguayan children.

Gerardo Amarilla, a member of Uruguay's National Party, told the New York Times, "This is an adventure which may end up endangering an entire generation."

In a peculiar twist though, marijuana consumption is already legal in Uruguay. Only sale and production are not. 

The Broad Front, a liberal political party in Uruguay, addressed that paradox with a statement on its website: "The consumption of marijuana has been allowed for 40 years, but it can only be accessed through the narcos, and requires the commission of a crime, in addition to the exposure to other drugs. We have created a great business for drug trafficking, and that is what we want to start to fight."

Compared to other Latin American countries, Uruguay has been a trailblazer on this issue. And many believe Uruguay's push to regulate consumption will encourage other nations to combat their drug trafficking with similar legislation. 

John Walsh, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the New York Times, "This vote is destined to have a big impact, with regional and even global repercussions for drug policy." 

Well, good luck Uruguay. Puff, puff, and pass the drug reform on. 

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Uchechi Kalu

Uchechi is PolicyMic's Politics Intern and a senior@ Princeton University. Tweet her @chechkalu

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