Uruguay's Senate approved the world's first national marketplace for legal marijuana Tuesday, an audacious and risky experiment that puts the government in charge of growing, selling and using a drug that is illegal almost everywhere else.
The vote was 16 to 13, with the governing Broad Front majority united in favor. The plan now awaits the signature of President Jose Mujica, who wants the market to begin operating next year.
Two-thirds of Uruguayans oppose a government-run marijuana industry, according to opinion polls. But Mujica said he's convinced the global drug war is a failure and feels bureaucrats can do a better job of containing addictions and beating organized crime than police, soldiers and prison guards.
"Today is an historic day. Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example," cheered Sen. Constanza Moreira, voting with the Broad Front majority.
Uruguay's drug control agency will have 120 days, until mid-April, to draft regulations imposing state control over the entire market for marijuana, from seed to smoke.