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Imagine a post-drug war world. After decades of brutal violence, huge costs and corrupting cartels, the Americas are trying to picture it. They produce and ship the bulk of the cocaine that enters the US, the world's top user. Now leaders are discussing alternatives to the war on drugs, such as decriminalizing or legally regulating parts of the drug trade. The taboo is broken. 'Legalize it' is gaining ground.
With marijuana decriminalized, Uruguay’s government considers growing pot. But government green has stoners peeved.
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — In November 2010, 68-year-old Argentine writer Alicia Castilla moved across the River Plate to Uruguay in search of a tranquil life.
But just months later, her new home — set back from a pristine white beach an hour from the capital Montevideo — became the target of a police drug raid.
“Fourteen officers stormed in,” she told GlobalPost. “They thought I was the female version of Pablo Escobar.”
Castilla, a longtime activist for the legalization of marijuana and a user since her twenties, was growing 29 cannabis plants, for personal use.
She endured a 95-day stint in jail following her arrest, and today is facing a two-year prison sentence for producing an illegal substance.
Castilla’s case opened a fiery debate about the drug.
In this peaceful South American country, personal use of marijuana is not a crime but there’s a legal gray area around growing the plant.
Following her release in May last year, lawmakers of the Broad Front, the ruling center-left coalition, sent a bill to Congress that proposed legalizing pot production, with a limit of eight plants per household.
That was similar to a bill put forth by opposition politician in 2010.
Now, a parliamentary commission is expected to begin debating a third, far more radical idea — a state monopoly over the cultivation, commercialization and sale of cannabis.
The bill, introduced by the administration of 77-year-old President Jose Mujica, a former left-wing guerrilla, has caused a stir across Latin America.
Jose Mujica, Uruguay's president, speaks to news wire AFP about government plans to take over the marijuana industry.
More from GlobalPost: Uruguay's government, new pot dealer on the block?
Coca-producing Bolivia said it would be open to implementing similar measures. Chilean senators followed by presenting a cannabis legalization bill of their own.
They are the latest to support the softening of anti-drug policies, which has gained momentum from Argentina to Mexico and California.
Mujica believes his plans put Uruguay, a country of just 3.4 million people, “at the vanguard.”
Lately, the "vanguard" does not look too far off for Argentina's smaller neighbor, at least in a liberal sense. Uruguay is set to legalize abortion, which would make it the only Latin American country other than Cuba to do so, reports The Associated Press.
The United Nations, however, labeled the marijuana bill “disappointing” and argued it contravenes the organization’s 1961 convention on narcotics.
Seated in an armchair emblazoned with images of marijuana leaves, Castilla — popularly known as “Señora Cannabis” — says she is pleased the government supports a move away from interdiction.
“But this is a step backwards,” she argues.
Castilla is opposed to a database and monthly limit for users proposed by government ministers.
She also branded a proposal to obligate users to go to rehab as “fascist.” The measure, put forward in a complimentary bill, would see those found high in public forced into “assistance centers.”
Julio Calzada, secretary general of Uruguay’s National Committee on Drugs, told
GlobalPost that maximum consumption — for smoking or eating — would be 40 grams per person per month.
“Individual rights have to be respected,” Castilla says. “It’s not the role of the state to determine how much we consume.”
“The bill is headed in the wrong direction,” agrees Sebastian Maurell, 19, a marijuana smoker.
Juan Vaz, a leading legalization campaigner who was also jailed for keeping cannabis plants, echoes their worries.
He is lobbying lawmakers to ensure they don’t discard the idea of legalizing domestic production.
Vaz, 45, heads about 1,000 organized activists who want Uruguay to institutionalize the model of “cannabis clubs” used in the semi-autonomous Basque region in northern Spain.
There, some 300 nonprofit associations grow cannabis and share it among members. The clubs occupy a gray area in Spanish law since marijuana consumption, as in Uruguay, is decriminalized.
“It’s far more practical to let users regulate themselves rather than impose a top-down state model,” Vaz says as he rolls