The small Latin American nation of Uruguay has taken the brave step of becoming the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana, one of the several progressive policies being undertaken by the left-of-center government of President José Mujica. The former Marxist and guerilla revolutionary spent more than a decade in jail prior to his release in 1985, and he later climbed his way up the political ladder from an elected deputy to president in 2009. Known for maintaining a frugal lifestyle and a preference for giving most of his monthly salary to charities that benefit the poor, Mujica has overseen the legalization of gay marriage, abortion, and now marijuana. Uruguay has become perhaps the region’s most socially liberal country, and the state’s decision to regulate the sale of marijuana – a de facto nationalization – will allow it to tinker with policies that can be emulated elsewhere if proven successful.
The new legislation would make marijuana commercially available to adult citizens after registering in a government database; users will be able to purchase 40 grams of marijuana from pharmacies every month and cultivate up to six plants on their property. The government aims to make marijuana available for one dollar per gram, with the aim of undercutting the black market rate of $1.40 per gram. Uruguay is estimated to have some 120,000 to 200,000 daily-to-occasional cannabis users, and the rationale behind the policy is that instead of these users getting their marijuana from traffickers and local mafia groups, the sensible alternative is to rein in the $40 million domestic industry by legitimizing it and offering a good quality product which can be regulated and offered in a safe environment.