Uruguay is one of very few countries that never criminalised drug possession for personal consumption. It is now pushing for a fully regulated legal cannabis market.
1974 – Repealed previous legislation, meaning that there are no quantity limits and that it is up to judicial discretion to determine whether the intent behind possession was personal consumption. If it is determined that the possessed amount was for personal use, there are no criminal sanctions.
1998 – The 1974 legislation is rephrased but the central meaning in terms of drug use for personal use remained untouched and the lack of criminal punishment for personal users is continued.
2012 - Under lead of Uruguayan president José Mujica, a draft bill is presented to congress for legalizing marijuana cultivation and consumption. An earlier draft had proposed a state monopoly over cannabis importation, production, acqueisition, storage, sale , and distribution of marijuana or its derivatives, but after an international consultation procedure the draft bill presented to the General Assembly in November legally permits individuals and companies to produce and sell marijuana for recreational, medicinal, or industrial uses, under the ordinance of a National Cannabis Institute.
The bill allows for home cultivation of up to six plants and membership clubs with a maximum of 15 members per club. The threshold quantity for personal consumption is 40 grams (around 1.5 ounces) of marijuana. Clubs will be allowed cultivation of up to 90 plants and annual production of up to 7.2 kilograms.
The bill’s stated aim is to “protect promote and improve the public health of the population through policies geared towards minimising the risks and reducing the dangers of cannabis use”.
The central objectives are the separation of the cannabis market from the market for other drugs; normalization and full social inclusion of marijuana use; strengthening of the national system of treatment for people with problematic drug use; and a frontal assault on drug trafficking.
Mujica’s allies are currently majority in both houses, so the bill is expected to pass. However, there is only 40% public approval, and the bill has been denounced by the UN for breaching the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics.
Minister of Defense Eleuterio Fernandez wishes to move the country “toward a stricter state of control of the disturbution and production of [cannabis]. It’s a fight on both fronts: against corruption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself.”
When the Uruguayan President José Mujica was asked about his proposal to make a historic break with global prohibition and put in place the first legal, state controlled market for cannabis, he replied: “Someone has to be first”.