Uruguay is planning to start selling legal marijuana next year

legal-marijuanaA law already passed in the lower house of Congress and expected to pass in the Senate later this year would make Uruguay the first country in the world to license and enforce rules for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers.

The country is hoping to act as a potential test case for an idea slowly gaining steam across Latin America — that the legalization and regulation of some drugs could sap the cartel violence devastating much of the region.

“The illegal market is very risky and offers poor quality,” National Drug Board chief Jose Calzada was quoted as saying in Sunday’s El Pais newspaper.

The El Pais newspaper reported Sunday that drug chief Julio Calzada says marijuana sales should start in the second half of 2014 at a price of $1.

He says the idea isn’t to make money, but to wrench the market away from illegal dealers.

The state “will provide a safe place to buy, a good quality product and, moreover, will sell at a standard price.”

The government proposes to sell marijuana for $1 a gram, slightly below the current market rate that runs about 30 pesos ($1.40) a gram.

By putting the government in charge of the marijuana industry, which is estimated to be worth $30 million to $40 million a year, the plan aims to curtail illegal trafficking and the violence that comes with it.

The proposed law would allow people to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for their own use, belong to a membership club that could grow up to 99 plants, or buy the drug at pharmacies, with a limit of 40 grams a month per person.

Many opponents fear the legalization of cannabis would turn Uruguay into a pot tourism hub and encourage the use of stronger drugs.

But Mujica argues the current policies have failed and estimates Uruguay, a small country with just 3.3 million people, spends upwards of $80 million a year on combating drugs but seizes just $4 million to $5 million worth of contraband.