Despite Polls, Uruguay Government Wants to Legalize Weed

Most citizens of the South American nation oppose a law that would legalize pot.

ByABC News
January 16, 2013, 4:22 PM

Jan. 17, 2013— -- Usually, you would expect middle-aged politicians, President Obama, for instance, to oppose, or at least ignore, proposals to get marijuana legalized, right?

Well, that's no longer the case in tiny Uruguay, where many parliamentarians are aggressively pushing for a law that will get pot fully legalized at the national level.

Lawmakers in Uruguay are insisting that this law should be passed, in spite of a recent poll that suggested that most of the country's citizens are against the legalization of the plant. The politicians say they support legalization because it's the best way to fight addiction and drug-related crime.

"There is no real alternative," Uruguayan Senator Sebastian Sabini told ABC/Univision. "In Uruguay it's clear that illegal drug consumption has increased in the last 50 years with prohibition, even as we improved the quality of repressive aspects," added the senator, whose party, The Frente Amplio, has a comfortable majority in Uruguay's parliament.

The proposal would enable Uruguayans to buy up to 40 grams of weed per month from state-authorized distributors, enough for roughly 80 joints. If passed in its current form, the marijuana law would also create a National Institute of Cannabis, which would invest profits from pot sales in crime prevention and anti-addiction programs.

La Ley sobre la Marijuana, as it is known here, is also backed by Uruguay's progressive 77-year-old president, José Mujica. It was about to get passed by the Uruguayan parliament in December, but Mujica asked parliamentarians to delay the vote, after a poll suggested that 64 percent of Uruguayans do not agree with the bill.

"Don't vote on a law because you have majority in parliament," the president said on December 18. "Support has to come from the streets."

Mujica says that key supporters of the marijuana law must now convince a greater portion of Uruguayans that marijuana legalization will be beneficial for the country. This could turn out to be somewhat of a challenging job if you consider the following numbers.

In the poll conducted by Cifra back in December, which reportedly prompted Mujica to delay the marijuana vote, seven out of ten respondents over the age of 45 said that they rejected the possible legalization of the sale of marijuana in Uruguay. Six out of ten respondents who are over 30 years of age rejected legalization, and even amongst "youth" (people between the ages 16 and 29), 53 percent of respondents said they were against the legalization of pot.

Senator Sabini says that the poll results suggest that people in Uruguay confuse legalizing marijuana with promoting its consumption.

"Evidently it can be misinterpreted, so we have to fight against disinformation and try to make ourselves understood," the Uruguayan senator said. He added that legislators in Uruguay must now make space in their agendas to discuss the project through public forums and in mass media.

But rejection of the marijuana law could also indicate that conservative attitudes towards marijuana consumption are still prevalent in Uruguay.

"It's an addiction," said Oscar Esquivo, 60, as he made his way through downtown Montevideo. Esquivo added that marijuana consumption was only "acceptable," if it was used for medical purposes.

Tabaré Vázquez, a former president of Uruguay who is being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for the 2014 elections, has taken an even tougher stance against the plant.