When one thinks about global trendsetters, perhaps one of the last countries to make the list would be Uruguay. However, the small South American country (whose economy centers around farming and is perhaps best known for the fun pronunciation of its name) just voted on a bill that would lead toward a state-controlled marijuana business.
Late Wednesday night, government officials in the Lower House of Uruguay's Congress (also known as the Chamber of Deputies) voted to pass legislation that would effectively put the production and sell of marijuana under the control of the state. If the legislation goes on to pass the Upper House (which it is predicted to do due to the President and his party having a slight majority), Uruguay would become the first country to have the production and distribution of marijuana controlled and regulated by the government.
According to the New York Times, this bill creates several caveats as to how the marijuana can be used. From the state level, marijuana will be grown by private farms, who will then only be allowed to sell this marijuana to the state. The state will then distribute this marijuana to pharmacies, which will control the sale of the substance. Anyone in Uruguay can purchase marijuana from these pharmacies, but they must register their name into the system and can then only purchase 40 ounces. Aside from state controlled pharmacy sales, private residences can also grow marijuana. However, they are limited to 6 plants per household. The third caveat on the bill states that "cannabis clubs" will be able to cultivate and distribute up to 99 plants, but only to members of said club.
If you think that this is now the prime opportunity to visit Uruguay on vacation, think again: "The regulation is not to promote consumption; consumption already exists," said Sebastian Sabini of the governing centre-left Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition..." What this bill aims to do, instead, is to provide an innovative and more effective way of dealing with the growing drug-trafficking problems inherent within the South American continent. Within the last ten years, marijuana use in Uruguay has doubled. Rather than using the same tactics that have been employed in this region for many years (since the Reagan drug wars), Uruguay hopes to become trendsetters and work against the prohibition mind-set:
"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," the Broad Front said in a statement on its website. "We have created a great business for drug trafficking, and that is what we want to start to fight."
While this bill does seem to be a unique and potentially effective approach toward dealing with the black market for drugs within the western hemisphere, it has met much resistance from the general population of Uruguay. According to a recent survey, 63 percent of Uruguayans disagree with the proposed legislation. The possession and use of marijuana is currently legal in Uruguay, with judges making the discerning decision as to what amounts constitute personal use. Many Uruguayans fear that if marijuana is fully legalized in their country, it will encourage foreigners to flock to the country and treat it as the next Cancun.
Opposition to the bill may have also been spurred by the Pope's recent visit to Brazil, in which he stated: "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America." While the Pope Francis has been an outspokenly liberal Pope, he seems to still be conservative when it comes to the "war" on drugs. Considering almost 50% of Uruguayans are Catholic, this bill may have a hard time gaining traction with the general populace. But then, on the other hand, the Pope did recently state that he would grant indulgences to those who follow him on Twitter. If this bill does pass Uruguay's Congress, the Pope will probably gain about 3,318,535 more Twitter followers (which just happens to be the population of Uruguay...)