San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemalan president applauds Uruguayan pot legalization vote

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has called last week’s approval by Uruguayan lawmakers in the lower house of the legalization of recreational marijuana an “important step” in the fight against international drug trafficking.

Pérez Molina said the initiative – which if passed by the Senate would task the Uruguayan government with the production and sale of marijuana – opens “a new space for discussion” on the merits of legalization of illicit drugs, a proposal put forward by Guatemala in February 2012, according to the state-run Guatemalan News Agency (AGN).

“We haven’t wished to provoke more discussion beyond what’s already been debated, because we want to make decisions as a region,” AGN quoted Pérez Molina as saying.

The controversial measure approved Wednesday in Uruguay was unveiled in June last year as part of a series of efforts to combat rising violence.

If the measure wins Senate approval, it would mark the first time a national government takes charge of production and distribution of legal marijuana.

Lawmakers argued for 14 hours before approving the text with 50 votes in favor of a total of 96.

“The regulation is not meant to promote consumption,” lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said at the beginning of the session.

“Consumption already exists,” he said. Nongovernmental workers favoring regulation of legal marijuana had filed into the chamber’s visitors’ galleries as lawmakers emphasized that the drug business finances organized crime.

Marijuana use has doubled in the last 10 years in the small, mostly rural South American country of 3.4 million.

 For his part, the Guatemalan president took observers by surprise last year when he announced one month after taking office that regional governments should consider legalization as an alternative strategy to the drug war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the past seven years.

Pérez Molina said the region desperately needs a change of course from the policy promoted by the United States for the past 40 years, which is a frontal “war” against international drug trafficking.

The U.S. is the principal market for cocaine, heroin and marijuana trafficked through Central America and Mexico.

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