The lower house of parliament in Uruguay has passed an unprecedented bill for the sale of marijuana. The move, which has yet to be approved, would put a government in control of the drug's production for the first time.
The controlled sale of marijuana was approved by 50 out of 96 lawmakers in the lower house of Congress just before midnight on Wednesday.
If it is given final approval by Uruguay's upper house, the Senate, the bill would make Uruguay the first country in the world where the government would be in control of the production and distribution of the drug.
The bill, supported by the government of President Jose Mujica, was put forward in June 2012 as part of efforts to combat rising drug violence. The government says it aims to satisfy an existing market by legitimate means.
"The regulation is not meant to promote consumption," said a promoter of the bill and lawmaker, Sebastian Sabini, at the beginning of the session. "Consumption already exists."
Under the terms of the bill, the state would be given responsibility for the "control and regulation of the activities of import, export, planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, acquisition in any capacity, storage, marketing, and distribution of cannabis and its derivatives."
The conditions would allow registered users access to marijuana by a number of methods. They would be allowed to cultivate as many as six plants and join marijuana-growing clubs, or buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of marijuana per month from an official dispensary.
However, the move has proved unpopular with many. An official survey published this week showed that some 63 percent of Uruguayans were against the bill.
The possession of cannabis for personal consumption is already legal in Uruguay, with judges given the power to decide what amount is appropriate for an individual.
rc/tj (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)