We suspect few Americans give much thought to Uruguay. It’s a small South American nation with about 3.3 million people, and its capital is Montevideo. Uruguay is on the Atlantic Ocean and is sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil.
None of that is remarkable, or even newsworthy. What is getting attention is that Uruguay seems poised to become the first nation in the world to legalize marijuana. In fact, the government could all but nationalize the industry.
Uruguay’s lower house approved a bill last week that would not only legalize marijuana, it would also regulate its production, distribution and sale. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, and Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, who has long been an advocate of drug reform, is expected to sign it into law.
To be fair, Uruguay’s government isn’t exactly giving its blessing to pot smoking. After all, two-thirds of Uruguayans oppose the bill, largely because of understandable concerns about its impact on health and the public welfare. Not surprisingly, other nations, including the United States, also have expressed displeasure with Uruguay’s move, likening it to a surrender in the war on drugs.
That’s not what Uruguay has in mind. This measure is its way of taking on the illegal drug market. The bill is largely an attempt to discourage Uruguay’s 120,000 to 150,000 pot smokers from getting their weed from the black market — and the drug cartels and violence associated with it.
The plan just might work. For starters, the proposed price of marijuana in the bill is $2.50 a gram, which would make it competitive with illegal marijuana. What’s more, the new bill would give the government control over Uruguay’s pot industry, from planting to consumption. Citizens, private firms and cooperatives would be allowed to grow a set amount of weed each month; it would be sold to consumers through state-run pharmacies. Buyers would register with the government and be limited to 40 grams each month — not quite 1.5 ounces.
Smokers wouldn’t have to worry about the quality of their weed. In contrast to black market practices that include altering the potency and purity of marijuana, the legislation would mandate strict cultivation guidelines. Like customers of other products, Uruguay’s pot smokers might appreciate both the affordability and quality control of government manufactured pot.
In approving this law, Uruguay would go beyond the Netherlands and Portugal, which have largely decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. Whether any nations follow Uruguay’s lead — several remains to be seen, but the change could result an influx of tourists looking for a mellow vacation spot.