Following a 50-46 vote earlier this year by the Uruguayan House, last night the Uruguayan Senate voted 16-13 along party lines to approve the legalization of cultivation, sale, distribution, possession and use of marijuana by adults, making tiny Uruguay the first country to fully legalize marijuana.
The legalization proposal was put forth by President Jose Mujica, who is expected to sign the bill. The president explained that the marijuana market already exists but the ones who profit from it are criminals. “We've given this market as a gift to the drug traffickers,” said Mujica to Argentine news media, “That is more destructive socially than the drug itself, because it rots the whole of society.”
Uruguayans already had the legal right to possess and use personal amounts of marijuana, as is the case in much of decriminalizes South America. The new law brings the commerce in marijuana out of the criminal shadows where it can be regulated and taxed. Initial estimates for the newly-legalized marijuana market have consumers paying $1 per gram for cannabis from licensed pharmacies with a maximum purchase of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) per month. But don’t book your flight to Montevideo just yet; only Uruguayan adults aged 18 and older who register with the government will be able to purchase weed from the pharmacies.
Personal cultivation will also be allowed in Uruguay. Adults 18 and older will be permitted to grow up to six cannabis plants in their homes per year and possess 480 grams (almost 17 ounces) at their residence. Spanish-style collectives may also be formed where 15 to 45 Uruguayan adults can collectively cultivate up to 99 plants per year.
About eight percent of Uruguay’s population consumes cannabis. While other countries have decriminalized personal possession, the cultivation, sale, and trafficking of marijuana have never been legalized to this extent in the world. Even in the Netherlands, where sale of personal amounts of marijuana in coffee shops is tolerated, the practice isn’t technically legal and neither is the cultivation necessary to supply those coffee shops. Washington State comes close, but does not allow the home cultivation and Colorado comes closer, but does not allow the collectives.
Uruguay’s government now has 120 days to regulate the marijuana market, which should put their system in place a couple of weeks in advance of what will surely be the world’s happiest 4/20 party.