Uruguay is poised to create a state-licensed marijuana industry, after the country's lower house of Congress passed a controversial bill late Wednesday detailing how the government would regulate marijuana — from its production and import to marketing and distribution. The move would be a first.
NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro tells our Newscast unit that the landmark bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to sail through.
"Uruguay is set to become the first nation to produce and distribute marijuana. The measure specifies that the government will control marijuana imports, planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, storage, marketing and distribution.
"The plan has the backing of the left-leaning president, who says it's vital to find new ways to fight drug trafficking.
"Users will be able to cultivate up to six plants or buy the drug from a dispensary or marijuana growing club. The opposition says marijuana is a gateway drug.
"The law will not allow foreigners visiting the country to have access to the crop.
Uruguay's President Jose Mujica is a doctor by training, Agence France-Presse reports. The news agency says that in the legislature's lower house, lawmakers "argued for 14 hours before approving the text with 50 votes in favor out of 96."
Mujica backed a similar bill last summer, prompting the Drugs Peace Institute to launch a campaign to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The AFP says that during Wednesday's debate on the bill, "NGO workers favoring regulation of legal marijuana had filed into the chamber's visitors' galleries as lawmakers emphasized that the drug business finances organized crime."
As the Spanish-language newspaper El Pais reports, a Uruguayan law was adopted in 1974 that permits the use of marijuana, but prohibits producing or selling it. The new legislation would put government regulators in control of pot as it becomes decriminalized.
"Buyers would have to be registered on a database and be over the age of 18," the BBC reports. "They would be able to buy up to 40 g (1.4 oz) per month in specially licensed pharmacies or grow up to six plants at home."