Last week a bill legalizing production and distribution of marijuana was introduced in Uruguay's General Assembly. It is more liberal than the plan floated by President Jose Mujica last June, under which the government would have been the sole legal source of cannabis. The legislation would instead create a National Institute of Cannabis, which would license growers. The bill authorizes home cultivation (up to six plants) as well as cannabis clubs with up to 15 members each, growing up to 90 plants and producing up to 7.2 kilograms a year. Personal possession would be limited to 1.5 ounces, more generous than the one-ounce limits in the legalization measures approved by Colorado and Washington voters two weeks ago. The allowance for home cultivation is the same as Colorado's but more than Washington's (zero). It looks like the main difference is Uruguay's club-centered distribution system, although Sebastian Sabini, a legislator from Mujica's party who had a hand in the bill, told Reuters there will be retail outlets as well. "We haven't said whether that will be done by the private or public sector," he said. "The government will decide that." Colorado and Washington both plan state-licensed, priivately run pot stores, while Oregon's unsuccessful legalization initiative would have charged the state with selling marijuana.
Reuters reports that "Mujica's allies control both houses of Congress, so the bill is expected to pass despite resistance from opposition legislators," possibly by early next year. If the law is enacted, Uruguay will become the first country to legalize marijuana. (While Spain has quasi-legal cannabis clubs and the Netherlands tolerates "coffee shops," neither country officially allows cultivation.) With a population of just 3.3 million and a land area of 68,000 square miles, Uruguay is smaller than both Colorado and Washington, which have a combined population of about 12 million and occupy 175,000 square miles between them.