Uruguay is now the first country ever to legally regulate the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, after the House of Representatives approved a bill that now must discussed by the Senate.
Growers, sellers and consumers, all aged 18 and above, would be licensed by a confidential registry to keep people from buying more than 40 grams a month.
Anyone carrying, growing or selling without a license would face stiff punishments, including long prison terms.
President Jose Mujica has backed the law, despite polls showing two-thirds of Uruguayans are opposed to it.
“I have never tried it in my life and I don’t know what it is,” Mujica told a local radio station. “[I am aware] a lot of young people have tried it.”
Uruguay’s government will control the marijuana market
The purpose of the bill would be to give the government legal control of the marijuana market, creating enough quality product to drive out illegal dealers and draw a line between pot smokers and those who use harder drugs.
Under the previous legislation, the consumption of cannabis in Uruguay is legal, but not the purchase, sale and cultivation of the plant.
Now, Uruguay will be the first country to authorize the marijuana use as a way to “improve public health and safety”, according to the government.
“Uruguay appears poised, in the weeks ahead, to become the first nation in modern times to create a legal, regulated framework for marijuana,” said John Walsh, a drug policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, reported the newspaper The Guardian.
“In doing so, Uruguay will be bravely taking a leading role in establishing and testing a compelling alternative to the prohibitionist paradigm”, Walsh added.
Opponents of the proposal warned that marijuana use led to harder drugs and said fostering the bad habits of users was playing with fire.