A bill to legalize marijuana in Uruguay appears to have a clear path after narrowly passing the House. After 14 hours of debate, 50 members out of 96 voted to legalize cannabis in Uruguay for citizens of the South American nation (tourists would still be prohibited from using the drug). The bill is expected to pass the Senate with little trouble, and has the support of Uruguay’s President, Jose Mujica.
The government will oversee the growing, selling, importing, storing, distributing and even marketing of marijuana, according to NPR’s South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Uruguayans will be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants, and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries and clubs.
The legalization campaign, which President Mujica pushed last year as well, is centered not on liberty but crime-fighting and public safety. Drug kingpins are so wealthy, powerful and well-armed in parts of South and Central America, they sometimes overpower local governments. This is most well-known in Mexico, but it is a serious problem in Colombia and the region as a whole. Uruguay has less of a problem than some of its neighbors, but by legalizing marijuana, they would take a step that is somewhat preventive and somewhat corrective in combating drug cartels.
No other country has legalized marijuana, but Mexico has come close, and other South American nations, namely Bolivia, has flirted with legalizing cannabis. Colorado and Washington State legalized marijuana in 2012 via voter referenda. No U.S. administration has supported the legalization of marijuana, but recent polling has shown that for the first time a majority of voters support the idea. Should Uruguay go ahead and legalize marijuana, it may be the first of a cascade in a legalization movement across the Americas.