How Uruguay Became the First Country to Legalize Marijuana

Marijuana | © Marco Verch | Flickr
Will Lees

Seems that Uruguay can’t, or doesn’t want to attract attention to itself, and even though the country made the massive decision to become the first nation in the world to legalize marijuana across the board, the news was not widely heard beyond its borders. Here’s the story.

Currently, Canada is pushing through a bill to make recreational marijuana use legal, nationwide, and the process is being carefully watched and documented on many open media sources yet it has been over four years, since the “poorest President in the world” Jose Mujica signed legislation to make the growing, distribution, and consumption of marijuana completely legal. So, what is Uruguay’s history with marijuana, how did this law come to fruition and what have been the benefits or repercussions since its passing?



Uruguay has always been a very liberal country in regards to narcotics, and prior to 1974, no law was in place to make the personal possession of drugs, criminally punishable, until a law was passed to provide a judge with the power to decide if the possession was personal or for distribution. When Jose Mujica, known for being the President who donated 90% of his wages to the needy, was elected as the President of Uruguay, he made his intent known, to legalize marijuana. The underlying reasons were to assist with health problems, and battle drug related crime by controlling the growing, importing and mainly the distribution of cannabis. This would in turn lower the profit organized crime rings would gain by trafficking the plant, as well as other drug related criminal activity.

Jose Mujica


The process was put in action, and on the final day of July in 2013, the bill to legalize marijuana was passed by the House of Representatives, and onto the Senate where a 16-13 vote meant that all Jose Mujica had to do was sign the bill into law, which occured on December 23rd 2013. It was official, before the turn of 2014, marijuana in Uruguay, was legal.

In regards to growing, farmers are granted professional licenses in order to produce the plant on a large scale, while for personal use people are able to have up to six plants. The government has also allowed growers clubs which are state controlled dispensaries in which each club is permitted to grow up to, but not exceeding, 99 plants, and recently in 2017, certain registered pharmacies have been allowed to commercially sell marijuana.


The effect

The preliminary assessment of the legalization of marijuana has overall been a very positive one. Since passing the law in 2013, total crime in Uruguay declined considerably and except for a very slight increase over the last year, has remained that way.

Mujica, whose presidential term ended in 2015, understood the magnitude of being the first country to take the step towards making cannabis legal. He was quoted as saying that with all the necessary steps and regulations in place, it would do only wonders for the country of Uruguay, but that he was prepared to backtrack if anything went “awry.” Safe to say that Uruguay looks like a pioneer, “blazing” a new trail with other countries looking to follow suit.

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