08/21/2014 06:23 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2014

Legalizing Weed Is ‘A Security Issue,' Says Uruguayan President

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Uruguay’s trailblazing legislation legalizing the world’s first government-controlled weed market “began essentially as a security issue,” President José Mujica told The Economist magazine in an interview published Thursday.

Mujica has continued to defend the legislation, which he spearheaded as president, despite a lack of popularity at home and criticism from the International Narcotics Control Board, a U.N. agency.

“We have spent many years repressing and spending money to fight drug-trafficking,” Mujica told The Economist. “We have had glorious successes, but trafficking continues to increase. In other words, this policy has failed for many decades. And it’s common sense that if you want to change you cannot keep on doing the same thing: You have to try other ways.”

The idea that legalizing marijuana should be viewed as a security issue has gained less traction in the United States, where a raging controversy over border security focuses on illegal immigration, rather than drug trafficking.

Weed accounted for 99.5 percent of drug seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border by weight in 2011, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. From 2005 to 2011, nearly 89 percent of drug seizures involved weed, with cocaine trailing far behind in second place with just 7.4 percent.

Legalizing marijuana would make such interdictions unnecessary, as Mujica points out.

“We are proposing a market logic,” Mujica told The Economist. "If we can’t beat them through policing, we are going to try to steal the market from them so that this ceases to be a business.”

Uruguay passed legislation last year creating the world’s first government-controlled marijuana trade. Under the law, registered users may purchase up to 40 grams of weed from pharmacies or grow up to six plants at home.

The law faces some uncertainty. Polls show rising support for the opposition in October’s election, which could lead to the repeal of the law, according to the Associated Press.

“I am convinced that the current project is never going to be applied,” opposition candidate for president Luis Lacalle Pou told AP earlier this month.

The Economist, a pro-market British magazine, has campaigned for the legalization of drugs for the last 25 years, according to the interviewer.



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