Uruguay, a nation of 3.3 million tucked between Argentina and Brazil, became the world’s first country to legalise the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana in a move aimed at curbing the cost of combating drug trafficking.
Legislators approved the bill by a count of 16-13 after a 12-hour debate in the senate late on Tuesday. The law will create a state-regulated market with prices set by the government and allow pharmacies to sell as much as 40g of marijuana a month to registered users who must be over 18 years old and residents of Uruguay.
The country, led by 78-year-old former guerrilla Jose Mujica, who has also legalised gay marriage during his presidency, is spearheading a movement in Latin America to combat drug trafficking by legalising the use of the psychoactive substance.
In the US, Colorado and Washington last year became the first states to legalise the recreational use and sale of cannabis. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 20 US states including California.
Mujica said that he hoped the measure would provide savings for the government which was spending $80 million (R827.6m) a year combating drug trafficking.
Mujica’s initiative faces resistance from neighbours nervous about spill-over across their borders and almost two-thirds of Uruguayans are wary that the government’s plan could go wrong, according to an opinion poll. – Bloomberg