A plan by Uruguayan president Jose Mujica to turn the government into the nation's marijuana dealer has been presented to Congress. The aim of the proposed bill is to take over an illegal marijuana trafficking business estimated to be worth 30 to 40 million dollars annually.
The one article bill would allow the government to control marijuana imports, production, sale and distribution, creating a legal market for people to get pot without turning to riskier illegal drugs.
The text submitted to Congress says the drug war has been a failure and that marijuana is only mildly addictive, unlike cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and psychotropic drugs.
However the bill retains in all its terms Law 14.294/1977 which bans the sale and/or purchase of marihuana (and other drugs) among privates and underlines that the government is empowered to be involved in all the material activities for the import, production, purchase, trading and distribution of the substance. The word “import” refers to the seeds.
The initiative is part of a package of actions against drug-trafficking which was announced a month ago. The purpose of the bill is to split the legal from the illegal market of drugs and concentrate all combat efforts against more noxious drugs such as ‘pasta base’ which is the cheap residue when manufacturing cocaine and is seen as one of the main causes of a surge in violent crime.
But members of Congress and public opinion are divided on the idea, even within the ruling catch all Broad Front coalition of President Mujica.
The Uruguayan leader has anticipated he will push the plan only if it gets at least 60% support in opinion polls. An official in the president's press office said the bill is not expected to advance quickly.
The text says the project's goals include the normalisation and full social acceptance of marijuana use so consumers are not stigmatised, nor treated as criminals. Instead, it proposes education about the risks of marijuana use. The presidency's website said a National Drug Council would organise meetings to facilitate reflection on this point.
The text sent to Congress added that marijuana has been for many years the most-consumed illegal substance in Uruguay, and has an important level of legitimacy in Uruguayan society.
Several members of the ruling coalition and the cabinet admitted having smoked pot at some time of their lives and the Secretary of the Presidency Alberto Breccia publicly stated it is a satisfactory experience: “I felt peace, serenity and joy”. However later he complained his words had been taken “too lightly” and his opinion distorted by the media.
The bill in its presentation motives argues that distinguished members of the Global Committee on Drugs Policy such as Fernando Henrique Cardozo, César Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, Javier Solana, Kofi Annan, Asma Jahagandir, Paul Volker, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, María Cattaui and Richard Branson have pointed out the urgent need to review the current policies to combat drug trafficking and consumption.