Uruguay Congress begins marijuana legalization debate
View of Uruguay's lower house during the debate of the bill legalizing marijuana, in Montevideo, on July 31, 2013. Uruguay's lower house Wednesday began debate on a bill legalizing marijuana, which for the first time would put a government in charge of the production, sale and distribution of the drug.
If approved, the bill, unveiled in June 2012 as part of a series of measures to combat rising violence, will head to the Senate for passage.
"The regulation is not meant to promote consumption, consumption already exists," lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said at the beginning of the session.
President Jose Mujica has backed the bill.
"What we would be doing is regulating a legal activity in our country. The other option encourages users to go to the black market, go to an area where drugs are being sold, and come into contact with substances that are more dangerous, harmful to health and cause more physical dependence," Sabini said.
Under current law, possession of marijuana for personal use is permitted in Uruguay, although it is up to judges to determine what quantity is considered appropriate for personal use.
Sabini stressed that the drug business "finances organized crime and illicit activities such as trafficking in persons, arms sales and money laundering."
"It does not mean we have to stop fighting drug trafficking, it means that drug trafficking must be fought in meaningful ways; not by fighting the user who has 40 grams in his pocket," Sabini told the legislature.
The bill specifies that the government would assume control and regulation of the importation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, acquisition, storage, marketing and distribution of marijuana and its derivatives.
Those using the drug would be able to cultivate up to six plants, gain access to the drug as part of a marijuana-growing club or purchase up to 40 grams per month at a dispensary.
The bill will be voted on after a long negotiating process within the president's left-leaning Frente Amplio (FA) party, which has a small parliamentary majority. The measure is rejected by all opposition parties.