Uruguay's government may become first to sell marijuana
"This measure should be accompanied by efforts to get young people off drugs," ruling party Sen. Monica Xavier told channel 12 local TV.
But other drug rehabilitation experts disagree with the planned bill altogether. Guillermo Castro, head of psychiatry at the Hospital Britanico in Montevideo says marijuana is a gateway to stronger drugs.
"In the long-run, marijuana is still poison," Castro said adding that marijuana contains 17 times more carcinogens than those in tobacco and that its use is linked to higher rates of depression and suicide.
"If it's going to be openly legalized, something that is now in the hands of politics, it's important that they explain to people what it is and what it produces," he said. "I think it would much more effective to educate people about drugs instead of legalizing them."
Uruguay is among the safest countries in Latin America but recent gang shootouts and rising cocaine seizures have raised security concerns and taken a toll on the already dipping popularity of leftist President Jose Mujica. The Interior Ministry says from January to May, the number of homicides jumped to 133 from 76 in the same period last year.
Overburdened by clogged prisons, some Latin American countries have relaxed penalties for drug possession and personal use and distanced themselves from the tough stance pushed by the United States four decades ago when the Richard Nixon administration declared the war on drugs.
"Out of all the drugs that are used for psychoactive effect, this is the least toxic, and the least potential for harm," said Lester Grinspoon, associate professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School.
"It may take some time to find a regulatory system that everyone can be comfortable with," Grinspoon added of Uruguay's proposed sale of the drug.
"There's a growing recognition in the region that marijuana needs to be treated differently than other drugs, because it's a clear case that the drug laws have a greater negative impact than the use of the drug itself," said Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank. "If Uruguay moved in this direction they would be challenging the international drug control system."
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