Uruguayan Senate Approves Legal Pot

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Uruguay legalized marijuana late last year.

All that’s left is a signature. With that, the small, obscure country of Uruguay will become the first in recorded history to regulate the sale of legal marijuana for recreational use.

The Uruguayan Senate voted Dec. 10 to pass a bill legalizing pot for the country’s 3.3 million residents, clearing the last major hurdle before the bill becomes law. The lower house of Uruguay’s Congress approved the legislation earlier this year, and President José Mujica, one of its original supporters, is sure to sign it.

Legalization passed 16-13 along party lines in the Senate, where every sitting member of Mujica’s Broad Front coalition supported the policy.

Once the bill becomes law, Uruguay will create a government Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. That agency will oversee cultivation and sale of marijuana. Residents will sign up with a state registry and will be allowed to buy about an ounce and a half, or 40 grams, each month.

If that restriction seems tight, the cost is not – though by Uruguayan standards it’s still expensive: $1 a gram. And each household will be allowed to grow up to six plants, while cooperatives will be able to grow up to 99.

The new policy in Uruguay is part of a growing campaign in Latin America to turn the tide on drug violence. Many countries there are looking to Uruguay as a pioneer in legalizing weed as a way to take it out of the hands of cartels.

“We are convinced that we can apply our own policy to drugs in compliance with international norms,” said Roberto Conde, a senator who voted for the policy.

Legalization has already sparked confrontation from international drug warriors. Raymond Yans, president of the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board, accused Mujica and his country of violating the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which Uruguay signed.

Mujica quickly shot back, saying Yans raised no such criticism when Colorado and Washington legalized weed last year.

“Do they have two discourses, one for Uruguay and another for those who are strong?” Mujica asked.

Legalization isn’t popular in Uruguay. According to polls, most residents oppose it. But they’re apparently willing to tolerate the change as part of a wider set of reforms pursued by Mujica and the left-wing Broad Front.

“This is seen as forming part of a new agenda, which in terms of legal rights Uruguay has advanced in recent years,” said Adolfo Garcé, a political scientist at the University of the Republic in Montevideo.

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