Changing the culture of consumption
Under the proposed legislation, only Uruguayans over the age of 18 that have passed a psychiatric and medical screening would be able to purchase marijuana in distribution centers approved by the government. A registry of users would be kept by the state to prevent people from exceding consumption limits, although this proposed measure has raised some concerns from potential users who feel their privacy could be violated.
Unlike alcohol and tobacco – industries that Calzada says have grown stronger through the years in Uruguay – any kind of marketing or branding of marijuana would be prohibited under the new law. Citizens would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home or to join cannabis clubs where the plant is collectively grown. A National Cannabis Institute would direct income made from the sale of marijuana toward educational and health systems that would better inform potential users about the plant and combat addiction.
Uruguayans who are currently planting, buying and consuming marijuana in the shadows feel that the government's plans to legalize the drug would provide some relief.
"It goes beyond legality, it's about normalization," says 45-year-old Juan Vaz, sitting in the café of a bohemian hotel in the capital's historic district, a place he calls "cannabis friendly." Co-founder of the Association of Cannabic Studies Uruguay, which has helped defend home growers since 2005 and is an advisory member of the National Committee on Drugs, Vaz himself was imprisoned in 2007 for possession of 45 marijuana plants in his home.
"Now we are used to being stigmatized because what we're doing is illegal," he says. "But once it becomes legal, what difference will there be between being a member of a cannabis club and being a member of a football club?"