June 18, 2013
Uruguay says pot law won't make it a drug haven
Uruguay's government plans to start growing marijuana soon after a law legalizing 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 legalize 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 legalize and regulate its sale and production.
Meeting the smoking needs of the nation of 3.3 million people will require annual production of about 29.8 tons, the government estimates, and the drug will be cultivated in a plantation of roughly 100 hectares (247 acres).
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 told Reuters on Saturday. "Our inclination initially is to have production and regulation under state control."