Uruguay plan: Sell marijuana to registered buyers

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) - Uruguay's government apparently plans to take a step beyond legalizing marijuana: It wants to sell it.

Local news media cited unnamed ruling-party lawmakers saying that the government planned to send a bill to Congress on Wednesday that would legalize marijuana sales as a crime-fighting measure. Only the government would be allowed to sell the marijuana cigarettes, and only to adults registered as users.

Uruguay's presidency did not immediately confirm the report, but told The Associated Press in an email statement that an official announcement later could include "the marijuana issue."

Uruguayan newspaper reports about the bill said that people who use more than a limited number of marijuana cigarettes would have to undergo drug rehabilitation and that money from taxes on the cigarettes would go to rehabilitating addicts.

The idea is weaken crime by removing profits from drug dealers and diverting users from harder drugs.

There are no laws against marijuana use in Uruguay. Possession of the drug for personal use has never been criminalized, and a 1974 law gives judges discretion to determine if the amount of marijuana found on a suspect is for legal personal use or for illegal dealing.

"This measure should be accompanied by efforts to get young people off drugs," ruling party Sen. Monica Xavier told channel 12 local TV.

Uruguay is among the safest countries in Latin America but recent gang shootouts and rising cocaine seizures have raised security concerns and taken a toll on the already dipping popularity of leftist President Jose Mujica. The Interior Ministry says from January to May, the number of homicides jumped to 133 from 76 in the same period last year.

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Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report.