Uruguay Poised to Become First Country to Legalize Marijuana

Press Release July 29, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman: 646-335-5384 or Hannah Hetzer: [email protected]</p>

This summer – perhaps  as soon as this Wednesday – the Uruguayan House of Representatives will vote on a bill to legalize marijuana. If approved by both the House and Senate, Uruguay will become the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers.

The marijuana legalization proposal was put forward by President José Mujica of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) last June as part of a comprehensive package aimed at fighting crime and public insecurity. After a year of studying the issue, engaging in political debate, redrafting the bill, and the emergence of a public campaign in favor of the proposal, Uruguay’s parliament is set to vote on the measure this summer.

In the year since Mujica’s announced his proposal, support for the initiative has risen among diverse sectors of Uruguayan society. A national TV ad campaign, featuring a mother, a doctor, and a lawyer explaining the measure's benefits on public safety and health – has reached hundreds of thousands of Uruguayans.  Regulación Responsable (“Responsible Regulation”), the coalition of prominent Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support the initiative, has held events around the country, sparking debate at all levels. LGBT, women’s rights, health, student, environmental and human rights organizations have all united to support Regulación Responsable, alongside trade unions, doctors, musicians, lawyers, athletes, writers, actors and academics. “This is a truly diverse movement comprised of people who believe that marijuana reform will benefit all of Uruguayan society,” said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Uruguayan proposal has also gained attention abroad over the past year, as momentum has built throughout the U.S., Latin America and elsewhere for broad drug policy reforms. Last November, Colorado and Washington became the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world to approve the legal regulation of marijuana.

In mid-July, former president of Brazil and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, publicly praised Uruguay in an op-ed published throughout the region. A week later, Uruguayan members of Congress received a letter of support signed by 65 Mexican legislators, congratulating their “leadership” in promoting “better drug policies and laws.” And just this Monday, these Uruguayan members of Congress received a second letter of support signed by more than 100 organizations worldwide, celebrating “the immense contribution and comprehensive proposal to deal with the implications that drugs have on health, development, security and human rights.” 

Mujica is joined by a growing chorus of current and former Latin American leaders, who agree that legal regulation will prevent marijuana consumers from being exposed to other drugs available on the illicit market, allow access to medical marijuana for patients in need, and enable Uruguay to reinvest the millions of dollars currently flowing into the pockets of drug traffickers into education, treatment and prevention of problematic drug use. In May, the Organization of American States produced a report, commissioned by heads of state of the region, that included marijuana legalization as a likely policy alternative and predicted a hemispheric move toward marijuana legalization in the coming years.

The bill will first be voted on in the Uruguayan House and, if approved, passed to the Senate. The governing coalition, the Frente Amplio, has majorities in both houses, which would mean approval for the measure if all legislators vote along party lines. “By approving this measure, Uruguay will take the broad regional discussion on alternatives to drug prohibition one step further. It will represent a concrete advance in line with growing anti-drug war rhetoric in Latin America,” said Hetzer.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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