Lawmakers in Uruguay's lower house approved a sweeping bill to legalize
marijuana, which now heads for the Chamber of Senators.
If senators pass it as expected, President Jose Mujica, a former guerrilla, indicated he would sign the bill, saying it was needed so Uruguay could refocus police resources on combating street crime and smugglers who traffic other types of drugs, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The Chamber of Deputies' vote Wednesday was 50-46.
"This is a very innovative bill, with the state deciding to regulate the entire chain of production, distribution and access to the substance," said Laura Blanco, president of Uruguay's Cannabis Studies Association.
Blanco said the bill's passage sent an "encouraging" signal to other Latin American nations, as political leaders debate whether to follow Uruguay's example.
Under the bill, which could become law in August, people would be allowed to grow marijuana in their homes with a six-plant limit per household. They would also be permitted to form cooperatives, which would be allowed to grow 99 plants. Private companies could grow marijuana although their crops could only be bought by the government, which would market the drug in licensed pharmacies.
Mujica last year urged legislators to delay a vote on the measure after polling indicated a majority of Uruguayans opposed legalizing marijuana.
While a majority in Uruguay is still thought to be against the legalization, the Times said, lawmakers pressed forward after non-profit groups joined in an educational campaign to explain the medicinal uses of marijuana and the economic benefits of cultivating the plant in Uruguay.
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