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August 2, 2013

Uruguay takes key step toward legalizing marijuana

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Uruguay appears likely to become the first Latin American country to legalize marijuana, after its lower house of Congress approved a bill to regulate the drug and sanction its consumption.

Uruguay’s upper house, the Senate, still must pass the measure, but analysts believe the government-led majority favors the law and that it will be approved by October. President Jose Mujica is a strong proponent of the measure, which polls show is opposed by a majority of Uruguayans.

The 50-46 vote in the capital, Montevideo, late Wednesday came as legalization or decriminalization of drugs is increasingly debated among Latin American leaders, who see the U.S.-led war on drugs as a failure. They complain that cocaine, marijuana and heroin continue to flow to U.S. consumers, while Latin American countries pay the price in violence and organized crime. The presidents of Guatemala and Colombia have said new ways of stopping drug trafficking should be considered.

“Uruguay will be bravely taking a leading role in establishing and testing a compelling alternative to the prohibitionist paradigm,” said John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a Washington-based think tank that has urged a revision of drug policies.

In a statement Thursday, Walsh noted that Uruguay would join the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington in legalizing the consumption of marijuana, and that dozens of drug policy nongovernmental organizations, as well as former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, endorsed the measure.

As passed by the Uruguayan chamber of deputies, the law somewhat resembles California’s medical marijuana law, although the Uruguayan measure is aimed at recreational use. It would allow home cultivation of marijuana and the monthly sale of up to 1.4 ounces per month to users who buy it at specially licensed pharmacies. The lawmakers turned aside a Mujica initiative that the state monopolize the drug’s production and distribution.

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