Uruguay becomes world's first country to legalise marijuana trade

UruguayActivists gather in support of the legalization of marijuana outside the Congress building, as senators vote on a law to legalize the drug, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP)

Uruguay has approved pioneering legislation legalising marijuana, becoming the first nation in the world to oversee the production and sale of the drug.

After a 12-hour debate, 16 leftist senators out of 29 lawmakers voted Tuesday in favour of the legislation championed by President Jose Mujica, who must now sign it into law.

Outside the Senate, hundreds of cannabis-smoking supporters set off fireworks in what they dubbed "the last march with illegal marijuana." The atmosphere was festive.

"The war against drugs has failed," said Senator Roberto Conde as he presented the bill on behalf of the ruling leftist Broad Front, calling it an "unavoidable response" to that failure "It is an historic day. Uruguay is now on the international forefront of this issue," said ruling party senator Alberto Couriel.

The bill passed the lower house of Congress in August and was assured of approval because the ruling coalition controls both chambers.

It authorises the production, distribution and sale of cannabis, allows individuals to grow their own on a small scale, and creates consumer clubs - all under state supervision and control.

Mujica, a 78-year-old former leftist guerrilla fighter, has called his plan an experiment. "There are a lot of doubts and the doubts are legitimate," he told Channel 4 television before the vote.

"But doubts shouldn't paralyse us in trying new paths to deal with this problem that has gripped us."

However, he added: "We are not totally prepared. But as in everything, you have to give it a chance."

The legislation has caused unease in neighbouring Brazil and Argentina.

The bill goes well beyond the marijuana legalisation measures recently approved by the US states of Colorado and Washington, or the similarly liberal laws of the Netherlands and Spain.

Consumers over 18 will be able to grow their own marijuana, though no more than six plants per person. They can also get it through clubs or buy up to 40 grams per month from pharmacies.

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