Though consumption of marijuana is allowed in some countries, Uruguay has become the first country in the world to allow its citizens to grow and sell it.

With sounds of reggae beats coming from the streets where thousands of people waved rainbow flags, the Uruguayan Senate passed a law on Tuesday night allowing the citizens of this South American country to grow, sell and smoke marijuana. The bill, passed after 11 hours of heated debate, is aimed at wresting the business from criminals. This experiment is being watched by several countries, which are getting tired of the U.S.-led “war on drugs” and working on drug liberalisation policies.

Though consumption of marijuana is allowed in some countries, Uruguay has become the first country in the world to allow its citizens to grow and sell it. “We begin a new experience in April. It involves a big cultural change that focuses on public health and the fight against drug trafficking,” Senator Lucía Topolansky, Uruguay’s first lady, told reporters outside the Senate.

The government-sponsored bill, approved by 16-13 votes in the Senate, would allow cannabis consumers to buy 40 grams each month from state-regulated pharmacies as long as they are 18 years and registered on a government database. The law would also allow Uruguayan citizens to grow up to six plants of marijuana in their homes a year and set up smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that could grow up to 99 plants every year.

The bill, passed by the lower chamber of Congress in July, remains unpopular among the majority in this country of 3.3 million people. But Uruguay’s leftist President, Jose Mujica, has defended it as a move to regulate and tax a market “controlled by criminals”. “We’ve given this market as a gift to the drug traffickers and that is more destructive socially than the drug itself, because it rots the whole of society,” the 78-year-old former guerilla fighter said before the debate.

As opposition Senators attacked the government for introducing an “unconstitutional” bill, a large number of supporters of the law gathered near the Congress building, holding balloons, playing music, smoking joints and waving flags with photos of Bob Marley and a slogan which read: “Cultivating freedom, Uruguay grows.”

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