Uruguay prepares for cannabis legalisation

It has been announced that the Uruguayan government will issue between 20 and 40 licenses to grow cannabis. Once grown by private land owners, the marijuana will be transferred to the State, which will be the only organisation allowed to sell it to consumers.

The government want to ensure that the licenses will go to the right people, and will thoroughly investigate everyone who applies for one. The key quality they are looking for is “moral fitness”.

The licensees will be allowed to devote up to an acre of land to growing cannabis. The government believes that 20 to 40 acres will be enough to satisfy the 120,000 Uruguayans who consume cannabis at least once a year.

Consumers will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams of cannabis per month. The State will sell three varieties of the drug, but says it will not advertise or give the containers colourful packaging. The profits will go to drug treatment and crime prevention programmes.

Polls have shown that 64% of Uruguayans are against the plans to legalise cannabis, but the country’s politicians are insisting that this is the best way to fight drug dependency and drug-related crime. The crucial vote in parliament has been delayed until April 2013 to give Uruguay’s leaders time to convince the electorate.  "Don't vote on a law because you have majority in parliament," President Mujica has said, "Support has to come from the streets."

In preparation for the change in the law, the government has launched a campaign to alert people about risks of the drug and offer guidelines on the best way to consume marijuana. Julio Calzada, secretary general of the Uruguayan drug taskforce, has said that eating cannabis is the safest way to consume it, as smoking can cause serious damage to the lungs.