Pubdate: Thu, 01 Aug 2013
Source: Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA)
Copyright: 2013 The Standard-Speaker
Author: Pablo Fernandez, Associated Press
Page: A9


MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) - Uruguay's unprecedented proposal to fight
organized crime by creating a legal, government-licensed marijuana
market was fiercely debated by lawmakers Wednesday, as the governing
coalition counted every vote in hopes of winning passage in the lower
house of Congress.

The Broad Front coalition has a more comfortable majority in the
senate, so the house vote was seen as the best chance for opponents to
block the law.

The plan was changed little in the six months since President Jose
Mujica postponed voting to give supporters more time to rally public
opinion. However, recent polls said two-thirds of Uruguayans remained
opposed despite a "responsible regulation" campaign for the bill.

The Drug Policy Alliance said that enacting the plan would make
Uruguay the world's first country to legally regulate the production,
distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers.

Dozens of pro-marijuana activists followed the debate as it stretched
through the day and into the night from balconies overlooking the
house floor. Outside the building, people held signs and danced to
reggae music.

"This law acknowledges a reality that already exists: The marijuana
sales market has existed for a long time, but illegally, buying it
from traffickers, and in having plants in your house for which you can
be thrown in jail," said Camilo Collazo, a 25-year-old anthropology
student. "We want to put an end to this, to clean up and normalize the

Governing coalition Deputy Sebastian Sabini told The Associated Press
that "without a doubt it would be a surprise if this proposal doesn't
pass, since it's already been agreed to within all the sectors of the
Broad Front."

But with only 50 of 99 house seats held by the coalition, and one of
their own deputies being openly critical of the proposal, passage was
not assured.

Mujica, for his part, said that he has never consumed marijuana, but
that the regulations are necessary because many other people do.
"Never in my life did I try it, nor do I have any idea what it is," he
told the local radio station Carve.

The heavy toll, costs and questionable results of military responses
to illegal drugs have motivated marijuana legalization initiatives in
the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, and inspired many world
leaders to re-think drug laws.

Uruguay's legalization proposal won support from the Organization of
American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Inzulza, who met with
Mujica last week and said his members had no objections. Pope Francis,
however, said during his visit to Brazil that the "liberalization of
drugs, which is being discussed in several Latin American countries,
is not what will reduce the spread of chemical substances."

Under the proposal, Uruguay's government would license growers,
sellers and consumers, and update a confidential registry to keep
people from buying more than 40 grams a month. Carrying, growing or
selling pot without a license could mean stiff penalties including
prison terms.

The idea is to have the government satisfy demand legally, fostering
enough marijuana production to drive out illegal dealers and draw a
line between pot smokers and users of harder drugs.

The latest proposal "has some adjustments, aimed at strengthening the
educational issue and prohibiting driving under the effects of
cannabis," Sabini said. "There will be self-growing clubs, and it will
also be possible to buy marijuana in pharmacies" that is mass produced
by private companies.

The lower house's committee on addictions decided to limit these
growing cooperatives to 45 members each. An Institute for Regulation
and Control of Cannabis would be created, with the power to grant
licenses for all aspects of a legal industry to produce marijuana for
recreational, medicinal or industrial use.

Sabini compared it to Uruguay's agency that controls the wine
industry. "Wine in Uruguay is very well controlled. And I assure you
that producing wine is very much more difficult than producing cannabis."

National Party Deputy Gerardo Amarilla, however, said the governing
coalition's publicity campaign played down the risks of marijuana,
which he called a "gateway drug" for other more addictive drugs that
foster violent crimes.

"Ninety-eight percent of those who are today destroying themselves
with base cocaine began with marijuana," he said. "I believe that
we're risking too much. I have the sensation that we're playing with

Supporters said the proposal aimed to eliminate a legal contradiction
in Uruguay, where it already is legal to consume pot but against the
law to sell it, buy it, produce it or possess even one marijuana plant.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt