MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY — The Uruguayan Senate will vote next week, most likely next Tuesday, on the pending bill to legalize marijuana commerce. The bill is expected to pass.
The bill is sponsored by the government and has already passed the House on a 50-46 vote in July. Once approved in the Senate, the government will have 120 days to write regulations before the law goes into effect.
Once the law goes into effect, Uruguay will have become the first country on the planet to break the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and subsequent treaties when it comes to marijuana legalization.
The Dutch have long allowed limited retail sales, but they remain formally illegal, and the supply remains criminalized, and other countries have decriminalized possession, but not taken the next step. Two US states have taken the next step, but marijuana commerce remains illegal under federal law.
Under the bill, Uruguayan marijuana consumers will have choices. They will be able to grow their own individually (up to six plants) or collectively, they can buy it in pharmacies, or they can seek access as medical patients through the Ministry of Public Health.
Next week’s vote will be the culmination of a process that began in June 2012, when President Jose Mujica included marijuana legalization as part of a comprehensive crime and public security package. In this case, the politicians were ahead of the public, and bill supporters took a year to educate the public and build support.
Supporters created a national TV ad campaign explaining the health and public safety benefits of legalization and formed a broad coalition, Regulación Responsable (“Responsible Regulation”), bringing together human rights, women’s rights, health, student, environmental and other organizations, as well as prominent Uruguayans from across the social spectrum. The campaign appears to have paid off.
“It’s about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach. By approving this measure, Uruguay will represent a concrete advance in line with growing opposition to the drug war in Latin America and throughout the world,” said Hannah Hetzer, DPA’s Montevideo-based policy manager for the Americas.
Uruguay is an augur of change for the better, said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann.
“Last year, Colorado and Washington; this year, Uruguay; and next year, Oregon and hopefully more states as well,” Nadelmann said. “We still have a long way to go but who would have believed, just five years ago, that legalizing marijuana would have become a mainstream political reality both in the United States and abroad?!”