Uruguay may be considered the Holland of South America due to its progressive policies on various issues. The small, generally overlooked country nestled between giant neighbors Brazil and Argentina has been a pioneer in several matters: first in legalizing gay unions, refusing to criminalize abortion, and, last July, it took the plunge by legalizing the use of cannabis.
Indeed, Uruguay will be the first nation on earth to license and regulate the production and sale of marijuana, the Guardian reported. Smoking cannabis already is legal in the country, but growing, carrying, purchasing or selling the drug has been illegal and punishable by prison terms.
Julio Calzada, secretary-general for the Uruguayan National Assembly on Drugs, told the Uruguayan newspaper El País that the procedures to regulate and control the use of cannabis will be very closely monitored. Every pot consumer will have to be registered with the drug committee, and they will be allowed to buy a maximum of 40 grams (around an ounce and a half) per month.
“Basically, the equivalent to a thick cigarette, or two or three thin ones,” he explained.
The price has been set so the official product can compete with the black market, added Calzada. “The official figure needs to be leveled to the illegal price – which is around a dollar per gram,” he said.
Calzada further said that the illegal market for weed is “very risky and of poor quality," adding that the government will offer "a safe place to buy a quality product."
The decision is in line with what Uruguayan President José Mujica said at the United Nations in late September. “What we want is to take all the market from drug traffickers,” he said. The Uruguayan state, he added, is committed to offering a “safe environment to buy, a quality to product to buy at the same price as you would find in the black market.”
The government is already working in the final text of the bill, which is expected to come into force in November. The preliminary version was approved by Congress in July, which tallied 50 votes for, 46 against and three abstentions. The government expects to start selling its first batch of marijuana in June 2014.
According to Calzada, the marijuana “plantations” will be subsidized and supervised by the government. Under terms of the deal, such a “farm” will not exceed 20 hectares (50 acres) in size -- that should be enough to fill the demand. The drug committee estimates that about 120,000 Uruguayans (about 4 percent of the population, which is just over 3 million) smoked marijuana at least once a year; 75,000 smoked once a month, and 20,000 people smoke every day.
Moreover, as Uruguayan law does not allow cigarette smoking in public closed spaces, such as restaurants or work offices – now that ban will be extended to marijuana. It will also be a criminal offense to drive under influence of the drug.