MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Julio Calzada, the country's drug control chief, is a nervous man. As of Wednesday, he has just 120 days to deliver regulations controlling the world's first national marijuana market.
The law awaiting the signature of President Jose Mujica after winning congressional approval Tuesday night describes what Mujica called an ''experiment'' in broad strokes. Now Calzada's ministry has to deliver the fine print to address the many unresolved questions raised in the Senate debate.
The government's stated goal is to drive drug traffickers out of the dope business and gradually reduce consumption by creating a safe and transparent environment where the state can closely monitor every aspect of marijuana use, from seed to smoke.
To be successful, this market must be kept small, contained, and profitable.
That means fixing just the right amount of active ingredient, THC, in seeds that can be cloned, identified, and controlled. And with fewer than 200,000 habitual smokers in the country of 3.3 million, just 25 acres of pot plants could supply the entire market.
Mujica acknowledged that his government is not totally prepared for this plan, which poses a direct challenge to the global drug war, which an increasing number of national leaders and experts are calling an open failure. But he said the country has to try.
''Einstein said that there's nothing more absurd than trying to change the results by always repeating the same formula. That's why we want to try other methods,'' he said in an interview published in Wednesday's La Republica newspaper. ''We know we've started down a road where there's no university to tell us what to do. But we have to try, because there's no blind man worse than the one who doesn't want to see.''
Mujica, 78, has said he wants the market to officially open by mid-2014.
Polls have showed two-thirds of Uruguayans are opposed to the plan. Many fear the government will not able to control the market when it is legalized. Mujica, who says he never smoked pot and considers it a ''plague,'' said he hopes they will come around to his point of view.
The law requires growers, sellers, and users to be licensed and registered so that the government can enforce limits such as the 40 grams a month any adult will be able to buy at pharmacies, or the six marijuana plants license-holders can grow at home.
Uruguay's plan is now an international test case, and what happens next will be closely examined as politicians elsewhere decide what to do.