MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — President Jose Mujica signed the long-awaited rules for Uruguay's legal pot marketplace Tuesday, launching a rollout that should stock pharmacies with government-approved marijuana cigarettes for sale by year's end.
Opinion polls suggest most Uruguayans are against the pot plan, but Mujica told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that his government has got to try it.
"I want to rescue society's right to experiment. If it didn't exist, we would be condemned to paralysis, stuck in a photo that never changes a bit. There is no other way to be able to advance," the president said.
Mujica and his governing Broad Front coalition ministers signed the rules behind closed doors, passing up the opportunity for a public ceremony on an issue that has dominated public discussion in Uruguay recently.
The president's efforts may be celebrated on T-shirts emblazoned with a green cannabis leaf and the phrase "Mujicannabis," but Mujica himself played down the signing, opting instead to eat pizza with some friends at a downtown restaurant.
With Mujica's signature, the regulations are now fully in effect, deputy presidential secretary Diego Canepa told the AP.
That means Uruguayan citizens and legal residents 18 or older can register to obtain licenses giving them the right to cultivate up to six marijuana plants per household and harvest 480 grams a year, or join a marijuana growing club with between 15 and 45 members and no more than 99 plants.
By putting his government at the center of a legal marijuana industry, Mujica hopes to keep otherwise law-abiding citizens away from organized crime and treat addiction as a public health challenge rather than a law enforcement threat.
That's easier said than done: Police on Monday were investigating the slaying of a 24-year-old man preparing to harvest marijuana from six plants he kept in his home. According to the newspaper El Pais, a witness told police that Darwin Porley was shot on the sidewalk Sunday night after two men demanded all his plants, saying he was intruding on their turf. Officials said it wasn't known if the plants were for personal use or for sale.