MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Pot is now almost completely legal in Uruguay.
On Tuesday, lawmakers gave final approval to a law that will allow Uruguayans to grow their own weed and smoke it freely — whether for medicinal or recreational use. Once signed by the country’s president, the legislation will pave the way for the government to license growers to cultivate cannabis, which will then be sold in pharmacies. It’s expected to take effect in April 2014.
The Uruguayan weed experiment has put this little South American country on the map. Governments around the world will now be watching to see what happens here, and if the new uber-liberal legislation has the intended effect: curbing a crime surge that many blame on drugs.
But what do everyday Uruguayans think about the new law?
Well, as of September, 61 percent of Uruguayans opposed it, according to a respected poll. And opposition lawmakers are threatening a referendum that would allow residents to vote directly on the fate of the law.
More from GlobalPost: World Wide Weed, an in-depth series on marijuana regulation
GlobalPost has been interviewing local residents of Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo. We heard a lot of opinions, from raving reviews to veiled disgust. Below are snippets from six interviews.
Diego Villalva, 38
“It’s a great thing.
"The security argument is really just a tactic, so they can better control marijuana.
"If I drink two glasses of whisky and drive, I can get into a lot of trouble, so I don’t do that. But I have friends who smoke and then drive and there are no laws about that.”
GlobalPost: Do you think this is the start of a new set of laws to regulate marijuana use?
“Yes, for sure. The government will know who the marijuana smokers are. And they’ll bring in new laws, like for smoking and driving, that will help to protect people in Montevideo.”
Virginia Zenandez, 18
“I think the fight against narco-traffickers is good. But it’s not going to change anything, this legalization. If you want to smoke marijuana here, you smoke it.”
GlobalPost: A lot of people think marijuana is a gateway drug to other drugs. Do you agree?
“No, no. Marijuana’s just like a cigarette. What’s the effect of marijuana? It makes you feel good — that’s all! It’s just like alcohol. Alcohol’s a drug, medicines are drugs, and they’re all legal.”
Abigail Soria, 18, and Shalako Scotto, 27
Soria: “I think it’s a bad thing.”
GlobalPost: Why? Do you think more people will smoke marijuana after this law passes?
“Yes, and it’s a bad thing because it’s so unhealthy.”
Scotto: “If you go back in history, Uruguay had a really big problem with alcohol consumption. So Uruguay nationalized the production of alcohol. But we still have the same problem.
"That money [made from alcohol taxes] was supposed to go to treat people who are alcoholics. But in reality, the money doesn’t go there.
"If this country was efficient with administering these things, then I could see the [taxes raised by selling marijuana] being spent well. But with the history we have, I’m not too sure.
"We don’t have a plan for how to control the different aspects of the law. Is an inspector going to ring your doorbell and check how many plants you have, and what types of plants?
"In Uruguay, we’re very liberal, politically. But as a society, we’re quite conservative. One of the senators said in the discussion today that the changes should come from the people. But, regarding Uruguay, it’s always been the other way around.”
Maria Maurente and Fabian Gonzalez
Maurente: “I think [the law] is a mistake. I don’t agree with it at all.
“There are lots of other problems to solve before we legalize marijuana. Drugs are affecting all young people in Uruguay. There is so much violence, so many robberies because of drugs.”
GlobalPost: But the government says this law is all about security, about keeping people like you safe.
Gonzalez: “No, no no.
“People will find a way to buy the stronger stuff. If the government doesn’t have the stronger stuff, they will buy it from the same place they’ve been buying it.
"That’s just how they’re selling this to the world. Security’s not going to get any better.”