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On Thursday, Uruguayan lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress to legally regulate marijuana. This comes on the heels of the historic approval of marijuana legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado on November 6, making these two U.S. states the first political jurisdictions in the world to legalize the production and distribution of cannabis. If Uruguay approves the measure, it will become the first country in the world to do so.
"Uruguay deserves praise for taking the bold step toward becoming the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The race is now on to see whether Washington, Colorado or Uruguay will be the first to leapfrog the Dutch and establish an effective system for legally regulating what was previously an entirely illegal underground market."
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced the proposal in June but the bill has changed significantly since its first draft, which required the state to be the sole provider of marijuana. After a long deliberative and consultative process with international experts, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the bill now allows for home cultivation of up to six plants and membership clubs with a maximum of 15 members per club. The threshold quantity for personal consumption is 40 grams (around 1.5 ounces) of marijuana.
The bill includes the establishment of the National Institute of Cannabis, which would be charged with licensing producers, authorizing home cultivation, and maintaining a registry of growers and membership clubs, among other responsibilities. The bill also includes regulatory restrictions such as banning any type of advertising; maintaining sentences of 20 months to 10 years in prison for those violating the law by planting without authorization or illegally importing, exporting, trafficking, storing or selling marijuana; and ensuring that all unauthorized cultivation is destroyed.
The stated aim of the bill is to "protect, promote and improve the public health of the population through policies geared towards minimizing the risks and reducing the dangers of cannabis use." It therefore requires the national health and education systems to provide treatment for and education on problematic drug use. The bill will be voted on in the lower house of Congress in the coming weeks and if passed would then be voted on by the Senate early next year.