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Street Crime Down As Uruguay's Marijuana Law Becomes Reality

Eduardo Bonomi (left) with Uruguayan police Eduardo Bonomi (left) with Uruguayan police

Robberies are down in Uruguay, while murders remained stable, as the government passed a historic marijuana regulation bill likely to draw increased international attention to the country's criminal landscape.

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Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi reported on the crime situation during a December 9 cabinet meeting, the day before the Uruguayan Senate passed legislation that will legalize and regulate the production and sale of marijuana, reported El Pais. According to the minister, both violent and non-violent robberies decreased in November compared to the same month last year, while homicide numbers stayed the same.

However, Bonomi expressed concern that 40 percent of homicides were the result of what he called "score settling," a term essentially linking them to violence among criminals and gangs, reported La Red 21.

In November 2012, Bonomi reported a rise in "score settling" homicides for that year, which saw a record number of murders.

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The crime situation in Uruguay is likely to be a focal point for the international community in the near future, as the government has maintained that marijuana regulation will seriously dent the revenues of criminal groups engaged in trafficking the drug, and help lower insecurity and crime.

Aside from public skepticism over these claims, there is a risk the groups involved could move to replace these losses with profits from other criminal activities. Although Uruguay has not historically had the sort of significant organized crime presence that would aggressively seek alternative revenue streams, there are signs the presence of foreign criminals is increasing, and that local groups are working with them and gaining prominence in the country's underworld.

SEE ALSO: Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

While Uruguay remains one of the least violent countries in the region, insecurity is rising, illustrated by the country's record number of homicides in 2012. For its part, the Uruguayan government will need to show positive security results with the marijuana legislation if it is to silence critics of the initiative and turn the tide of public opinion, which has been against the legalization move throughout this legislative process.

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