By Vic Diaz (@TheVicDiaz)
Uruguay is set to become the first nation in Latin America to legalize marijuana. The country’s senate is set to put to a vote on Tuesday a bill that would make the drug legal through the nation, despite it facing constant criticism from the predominately-Catholic country.
Backed by Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, the bill would allow the government to regulate the drug, including its distribution and sale. The nation’s lower house of parliament passed the bill, taking 50 out of a possible 96 votes.
Part of the potential law’s regulations include a limit of individual possession, which would allow citizens to have up to 480 grams for personal use and a mass growth of up to 99 plants at once for groups of 15 to 45 people.
As is customary with any marijuana legislation, the bill’s opposition has become prevalent. Alfredo Solari, senator for the opposing Colorado Party, said, “It’s a very bad piece of legislation, mainly because it increases the availability of marijuana in the market. There will be a legal market that can be accessed by most Uruguayans. But there will also be a parallel illegal market for all of those who can’t get marijuana legally.” Supporters of the bill, however, claim that this legislation will not give free reign to its pot-smoking citizens, as the bill does set age restrictions and severe penalties for violators, such as a 20-month to 10-year prison sentence, depending on the severity of the offense.
In support of the law-enforcement end of the bill, President Mujica offered his take on the issue, claiming that this will make strides in the fight against drug trafficking.
Mujica said, “We would like to identify those who consume (marijuana), take them out of the shadows and offer to them a regulated opportunity to consume (the drug) so that they don’t have to depend on drug traffickers. We want to take away the market from drug traffickers by competing with them.”