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Details of Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Raise Questions of Second-Hand Sales

A proponent of Uruguay's marijuana bill A proponent of Uruguay's marijuana bill

A proposal by the Uruguayan government would allow marijuana consumers could buy up to 40 grams of marijuana from the government for around $35 a month, a measure that could do more to fuel drug trafficking than prevent it.

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Julio Calzada, director of Uruguay’s National Drug Board, said the government would sell its marijuana to registered users at prices equal to those available on the black market, according to Cronica. The government-produced drug would have “strict quality control,” Calzada added.

Under the proposed legislation, which Uruguayan President Jose Mujica sent to Congress in August 2012, the government would keep track of registered users’ consumption by requiring they present an ID card at the time of purchase. The ID card would include a scanned barcode that would provide identifying information like occupation, residence, and marital status, but would not print a name or photo on the card, according to El Pais. Anyone attempting to buy more than the maximum amount would be required to undergo drug therapy.

Uruguayan officials supporting the legislation have argued that the government’s proposed state-run monopoly on the production and sale of marijuana would help combat drug trafficking in Uruguay by allowing law enforcement efforts to focus on cocaine use, which is on the rise.

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While officials maintain that the bill is aimed only for personal use, 40 grams of marijuana is a comparatively large quantity. A 2001 report from the US Office of National Drug Control Policy found that just .4 grams of marijuana go into the average cigarette. That means the government would be providing registered users with enough marijuana to smoke 100 marijuana cigarettes each month, far above the 2001 US average of 20 cigarettes smoked each month by a typical user.

This raises the concern that the large amount of marijuana the bill would make available to Uruguayan users could facilitate second-hand sale of the drug. This would in turn harm government efforts to curb drug trafficking in Uruguay, the bill's primary purpose.

The bill is not assured passage, however. Although President Mujica's Broad Front party enjoys a majority in both houses of Congress, they are seeking to gain wider acceptance for the bill among both the opposition and the general public, which they may find difficult. A private poll conducted in June, for instance, indicated that 60 percent of Uruguayans are against decriminalization of the production and sale of marijuana.

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