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MONTEVIDEO - Uruguay is set to introduce legislation allowing the state to sell and distribute marijuana, a first in Latin America.
The measure was one of 15 presented by President Jose Mujica's leftist administration to help fight a rise in crime.
"We believe that the prohibition of certain drugs is creating more problems for society than the drugs themselves ... with disastrous consequences," said Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro at a press conference.
The goal was for "strict state control over the distribution and production" of cannabis.
There are currently three proposals in Congress seeking to legalize marijuana growth for personal use, but the government opposes them because they fear Uruguay will "be accused of being an international center of growth and distribution of drugs."
Fernandez Huidobro estimated that the internal market for illegal marihuana use at $75 million a year.
Fernandez Huidobro said that he saw an increase in homicides due to fights between criminals as "a clear symptom" of a rise in drug trafficking crimes, until recently largely absent from the small South American nation neighboring Brazil and Argentina.
Between January and May there were 133 homicides in Uruguay, population 3.2 million, a 70-percent increase over the same period last year, according to police figures.
The government proposals also include increased prison time for cases of police corruption, and tougher sentences for criminal youths.
According to a government survey, 8.3 percent of the population consumed marijuana over the last year, compared to one percent who consumed cocaine.