MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY — Members of the Uruguayan government said Wednesday they plan to introduce a bill that would allow the government to sell marijuana. Only the government would be allowed to sell it, and only to registered users.
According to the Associated Press, government officials told reporters in Montevideo that the move is aimed at weakening crime in the country by taking profits away from drug dealers and keeping marijuana users from going to dealers who peddle other, harder drugs.
“We’re shifting toward a stricter state control of the distribution and production of this drug,” said Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro said. “It’s a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself.”
Possession of marijuana has never been a criminal offense in Uruguay, but its illicit sale has benefited criminals.
Some Uruguayan media reports said that money from marijuana sales would go to drug rehabilitation, while others said people who purchased too much marijuana would have to undergo treatment. But the government spokesman did not address those issues.
Some Uruguayans have expressed skepticism about buying their weed from the government.
“People who consume are not going to buy it from the state,” said Natalia Pereira, 28, adding that she smokes marijuana occasionally. “They’re going to be mistrust buying it from a place where you have to register and they can typecast you.”
“The main argument for this is to keep addicts from dealing and reaching (crack-like) substances” such as base paste, said Juan Carlos Redin, a psychologist who works with drug addicts in Montevideo. “Some studies conclude that a large number of base paste consumers first looked for milder drugs like marijuana and ended with freebase,” he told the AP.
But other drug rehabilitation experts booed the idea. Guillermo Castro, head of psychiatry at the Hospital Britanico in Montevideo told the AP marijuana is a gateway to stronger drugs.
“In the long-run, marijuana is still poison,” Castro said. “If it’s going to be openly legalized, something that is now in the hands of politics, it’s important that they explain to people what it is and what it produces,” he said. “I think it would much more effective to educate people about drugs instead of legalizing them.”
If Uruguay were to move forward with government pot sales, it would be in line with the reformist trend percolating across Latin America. Tired of years of violence and prisons stuffed with drug offenders, governments in the region have moved away from “drug war” policies and are embracing a more tolerant approach.
In fact, it was then Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle who became the first sitting head of state to advocate drug legalization back in 2000. Batlle was a member of the long-ruling Colorado Party, but the current government, headed by President Jose Mujica, is the left-leaning Broad Front.