Marijuana law introduced to Uruguay congress

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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"The government is still investigating what is going to be the best way to implement this," Youngers said. "This is an experiment. No country has done this before. So they need to have a law that lays out the framework, but have the flexibility to adjust this as they implement it."

Ruling party Deputy Sebastian Sabini told the AP that opposition lawmakers were invited Thursday to present alternatives to the proposal. He expects it to be quickly forwarded by the Commission on Addiction to the full lower house of Congress, which will pass the law next month. Uruguay's Senate would then take it up early next year, and if it passes, developing the necessary infrastructure and regulations would take much of 2013. Mujica's ruling Broad Front coalition enjoys ample majorities in both houses, so passage isn't in doubt.

The goal of promoting public health remains the same, said sociologist Agustin Lapetina, a Uruguayan drug policy adviser to the Social Development Ministry.

"The central objective is to separate the two markets, that of marijuana from riskier drugs, to minimize the probability that a cannabis consumer goes to the black market and ends up in other drugs," Lapetina told the AP.

"The state certainly will not be the main producer, but instead will license those who produce, distribute and sell" marijuana, Lapetina added. "And with this licensing money, it will collect funds to finance public health and prevention campaigns."

Marijuana legalization activist Juan Vaz has worked with government officials for more than a year on the law, and was pleased with the draft submitted Thursday, although he was surprised to see that pot-growing clubs would be limited to 15 members.

"It is becoming tangible and real. Anything can be improved, but we're in a time of change, during which there are no clear recipes, because nobody has traveled down this path before," he said.

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Associated Press Writer Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.