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Legislators in the lower house of Uruguay voted to approve a bill to legalize marijuana, The New York Times reports. The country’s Senate is expected to approve the bill as well. President José Mujica supports the measure. If the bill becomes law, Uruguay would become the first Latin American country to legalize marijuana, according to the Los Angeles Times.

President Mujica has said the bill is needed to free up police to fight street crime and criminals who smuggle other types of drugs.

Polls have shown a majority of people in Uruguay oppose marijuana legalization, the article notes. Nonprofit groups in the country promoted legalization through a campaign to explain the medicinal uses of the drug and the economic benefits of cultivating marijuana.

The bill would allow people to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. They could form cooperatives that would be allowed to cultivate 99 plants. Private companies would be allowed to grow marijuana, but their harvests could be bought only by the government. Marijuana would be sold in licensed pharmacies.

Uruguayans who purchased marijuana would be entered into a confidential federal registry. They would be allowed to purchase 40 grams monthly. Only citizens of the country could buy marijuana.

“This vote is destined to have a big impact, with regional and even global repercussions for drug policy,” said John Walsh, an analyst at the humans rights group Washington Office on Latin America. “Uruguay’s timing is right. Because of last year’s Colorado and Washington state votes to legalize, the U.S. government is in no position to browbeat Uruguay or others who may follow.”

Last month, Pope Francis spoke out against legalizing drugs in Latin America.


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