Uruguay's government plans to start growing marijuana soon after a law legalising sales of the drug passes Congress, but a ban on selling to foreigners will stop the country becoming a drug tourism hot-spot, officials say.
The leftist government announced plans last week to
legalise the marijuana market as part of a drive to stop rising crime, arguing
that the drug is less harmful than the black market where it currently trades.
The use of cannabis and other drugs is already legal in
Uruguay, one of Latin America's safest countries and a trailblazer on liberal
lawmaking. The reform being sent to Congress would legalise and regulate its
sale and production.
Meeting the smoking needs of the nation of 3.3 million
people will require annual production of about 27 tonnes, the government
estimates, and the drug will be cultivated in a plantation of roughly 100 hectares.
It is not yet clear whether the drug would be grown by the
state or by private contractors under license.
Planting should begin in September if the law passes
Congress swiftly as expected - despite some opposition from rightist lawmakers,
a government source said.
Harvesting would start six months later, said Julio
Calzada, secretary general of the National Drugs Board.
"By regulating the marijuana market in the way we're
proposing, we're going to undermine the development of trafficking of other
drugs," Calzada said on Saturday. "Our inclination initially is to
have production and regulation under state control."
The idea of a state-run chain of cannabis outlets has been
ruled out and the drug would initially be sold by closely monitored private
Registered consumers would not be allowed to buy more than
per month and foreigners would be banned from buying the drug to prevent the
small country becoming a hot spot for pot-smoking tourists, Calzada said.
Uruguay is a favorite holiday destination among Argentines
and fashionable beach resorts like Punta del Este are also popular with
visitors from neighboring Brazil.
"The idea is that it would only be sold to
Uruguayans... the Netherlands has had to retrace its steps on that issue after
years of difficulties with surrounding countries," Calzada said.
The famous coffee shops of Amsterdam have been a haven for
drug tourism for decades, but new rules are coming into force that will make it
harder for foreigners to buy.
Calzada said cannabis would carry a sales tax, the
proceeds of which would fund rehabilitation programs for addicts. State-grown
marijuana could also be used for medical purposes.
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