Uruguay`s national government said Wednesday it hopes to fight a growing crime problem by selling marijuana to citizens registered to buy it, and will send a bill to Congress that would make it the first country in the world to do so.
Under the plan, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana and only to adults who register on a government database, letting officials keep track of their purchases over time.
Minister of Defense Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters in Montevideo that the measure aims to weaken crime in the country by removing profits from drug dealers and diverting users from harder drugs.
He said the bill would be sent to Congress soon, but an exact date had not been set.
Uruguayan newspapers have reported that money from taxes on marijuana sold by the government would go toward rehabilitating drug addicts. The government did not provide details.
There are no laws against marijuana use in Uruguay. Possession of the drug for personal use has never been criminalized.
Media reports have said that people who use more than a limited number of marijuana cigarettes would have to undergo drug rehabilitation. Some Uruguayans wondered how successful such a measure could be.
"People who consume are not going to buy it from the state," said Natalia Pereira, 28, adding that she smokes marijuana occasionally. "They`re going to be mistrust buying it from a place where you have to register and they can typecast you."
A debate over the move lit up social media networks in the country, with some people worried about free sales of marijuana and others joking about it.
St. Pierre said the move would make Uruguay the only national government in the world selling marijuana. Numerous dispensaries on the local level in the U.S. are allowed to sell marijuana for medical use.
Possession of marijuana for personal use has never been criminalized in this South American country and a 1974 law gives judges discretion to determine if the amount of marijuana found on a suspect is for legal personal use or for illegal dealing.
Uruguay is among the safest countries in Latin America but recent gang shootouts and rising cocaine seizures have raised security concerns and taken a toll on the already dipping popularity of leftist President Jose Mujica. The Interior Ministry says from January to May, the number of homicides jumped to 133 from 76 in the same period last year.
Overburdened by clogged prisons, some Latin American countries have relaxed penalties for drug possession and personal use and distanced themselves from the tough stance pushed by the United States four decades ago when the Richard Nixon administration declared the war on drugs./times-standard.com/