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In 'Brave Break With Failed Model,' Uruguay Passes Historic Marijuana Legalization

Uruguay lawmakers craft 'experiment aimed at finding an alternative to the deadly and unsuccessful war on drugs'

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

(Reuters/Mathew Sumner)Uruguay has chosen to "bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model" in becoming the first country to legalize and regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana in a landmark bill passed by the country's parliament Tuesday.

The bill, which will be signed by leftist President José Mujica, was designed as an "experiment aimed at finding an alternative to the deadly and unsuccessful war on drugs," as the Guardian reports. While other countries have legalized possession of marijuana, Uruguay's new law is the first in the world to legalize and regulate all aspects of the trade.

Mujica said that the controversial bill is a deliberate move away from the "war on drugs," which has only helped fill the pockets of criminals in the illegal drug trade and has failed to discourage drug use.

"We've given this market as a gift to the drug traffickers," said Mujica, "and that is more destructive socially than the drug itself, because it rots the whole of society." He added that legalization allows for regulation and taxation and moves "the drug's use out of the shadows" and helps "social and health professionals better observe and respond to those who develop addictions," as the L.A. Times reports.

"We are asking the world to help us with this experience," Mujica said earlier this month, "which will allow the adoption of a social and political experiment to face a serious problem – drug trafficking."

"The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves," he stated.

The new law, which will go into effect in 2014, allows the purchase of up to 40g of marijuana per month at a pharmacy by registered users over the age of 18. Growers must also be registered and can grow up to six plants. The law also establishes government regulated "consumer clubs" which can grow larger amounts.

The government will regulate the price, but it is expected to cost close to what it does on average as of now—around $1 per gram.

"We know this has generated an international debate and we hope it brings another element to discussions about a model [the war on drugs] that has totally failed and that has generated the opposite results from what it set out to achieve," said Julio Bango, who helped draft the bill with fellow lawmakers.

“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,” said Hannah Hetzer, Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. “For 40 years, marijuana prohibition has been attempted and it simply hasn’t worked. But rather than closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay has chosen responsible regulation of an existing reality. Let’s hope others soon follow suit!"

However, an international anti-drug agency, the UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), has already come out against the decision, saying Uruguay has broken a 1961 treaty, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which banned all legalization of marijuana.

As Reuters reports, the board called on Uruguay "to engage with the board with a view to ensure that Uruguay continues to respect and implement the treaties to which it is a party," but did not say whether it will take further action on the issue.

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