ILLUSTRATED BY Gabriela Alford.
Felicitaciones are in order. Uruguay is about to become the first country in the world to entirely legalize the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana, thanks to a landmark bill passed Tuesday. President José Mujica, a longtime supporter of the measure, needs only to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do shortly.
CNN reports that cheers erupted outside the Senate building in Montevideo when the bill's passage was announced. It previously passed in Uruguay's lower house over the summer. Although it has met a good deal of opposition from people who say it promotes addiction — and recent polls show a lack of overwhelming popular support — the proposed law is largely intended to undercut the country's illegal drug trade.
"If we legalize it, we think that we will spoil the market [for drug traffickers] because we are going to sell it for cheaper than it is sold on the black market," said Mujica in an interview last year. "And we are going to have people identified."
Under the proposed law, individuals can grow up to six plants and possess up to 480 grams (a little over a pound) for personal use. Marijuana clubs will be allowed to grow even more. It will be available to both regular consumers and patients prescribed it for medicinal reasons — as long as they are over 18 years of age — though everyone will need to register with the state.
Still, the bill is not suggesting a reefer free-for-all. Advertising of marijuana would be illegal, and public schools would receive mandatory classes in drug prevention. While that may seem like a mixed message, Uruguay's current law is even more uneven: People can legally consume marijuana, but not produce or sell it. The proposed bill is meant to "eliminate that incongruence," said drug official Julio Calzada, in an interview earlier this year.
Still, this is major news for marijuana-legalization supporters. Even the Netherlands, long esteemed as a haven for pot smokers, merely tolerates marijuana, though it is not technically legal. Once the bill is signed into law, Uruguay will become a crucible for the effectiveness of liberal drug policy.
Will it also become a pot-tourist destination like Amsterdam? It's too early to tell, but those party beaches of Punta del Este might just have a leg up over the gabled facades of the Dutch capital. (CNN)