RIO DE JANEIRO -The lower house of Uruguay’s parliament has approved a bill to legalize cannabis spearheaded by the ruling Broad Front coalition headed by President Jose Mujica. The vote was 50 to 46.
Mujica, who has said that he has never tried marijuana, had pushed strongly for the proposal despite heavy public opposition. Far from an endorsement of the use of the drug, the law has instead been described as a more effective alternative to limit abuse and violence attendant with the current cannabis distribution market. Under the proposed bill, the Uruguayan government would control the majority of the drug’s distribution, fixing prices and placing a monthly cap on purchases to discourage abuse. But the bill would also allow small collectives of no more than six people to grow and informally share the herb. To discourage any international reputation as a “marijuana tourism” country, the bill would allow only Uruguayan citizens to purchase the drug.
Today’s vote represented the only significant hurdle left to the bill, which is now virtually assured to pass given a strong Broad Front majority in the country’s Senate and the unflagging support of President Mujica. If it does, then the South American nation of 4 million will become the first country to first sign and then blatantly contravene the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics, which first went into effect in 1961 and requires all signatories to maintain legislation prohibiting intoxicational strains of cannabis. While the UN technically has the authority to levy sanctions and other punitive measures against regimes which spurn international treaties, it remains unclear what if any action the international body will take in response to such an unprecedented step.