Uruguay set to become first country to legalize marijuana trade
By Malena Castaldi
MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay's Senate is expected to pass a law on Tuesday making the small South American nation the world's first to allow its citizens to grow, buy and smoke marijuana.
The pioneering government-sponsored bill establishes state regulation of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana and is aimed at wresting the business from criminals.
Cannabis consumers would be allowed to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from state-regulated pharmacies as long as they are over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases.
Uruguayans would also be allowed to grow up to six plants of marijuana in their homes a year, or as much as 480 grams (about 17 ounces). They could also set up smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that could grow up to 99 plants per year.
The bill, which opinion polls show is unpopular, passed the lower chamber of Congress in July and is expected to easily pass the Senate on the strength of the ruling coalition's majority.
Uruguay's attempt to undo drug trafficking is being followed closely in Latin America where the legalization of some narcotics is being increasingly seen by regional leaders as a possible way to end the violence spawned by the cocaine trade.
"Our country can't wait for international consensus on this issue," Senator Roberto Conde of the governing Broad Front left-wing coalition said as Senate debate opened. He said organized crime had turned Uruguay into a transit country for drugs, such as marijuana from Paraguay and cocaine from Bolivia.
Rich countries debating legalization of pot are also watching the bill, which philanthropist George Soros has supported as an "experiment" that could provide an alternative to the failed U.S.-led policies of the long "war on drugs." Continued...