Earlier this year Uruguayan President José Mujica made international headlines when he announced that he wanted to legalize marijuana in his country. This week he took a big step towards making that goal a reality. A bill which would legalize marijuana was officially submitted to the national legislature. From CNN:

With the intent of undermining the market for illegal drugs, Uruguay’s government presented a bill to lawmakers that would legalize marijuana under a government monopoly.

The government of President Jose Mujica has argued that the war on drugs has failed, and that separating the market for marijuana from the market for harder drugs will have social and health benefits.

The bill was presented to congress on Wednesday, and includes no details of how legalization would be cultivated, regulated or sold. But it makes it clear that the government would be the sole manager of the “importation, production, acquisition … commercialization and distribution of marijuana or its derivatives.”

Based on the details known so far, the President’s administration’s plan is to highly regulate the legal use of marijuana and have the government maintain a monopoly over its commercial sale. Government monopolies on “vices” is not a new idea. In several counties and regions in the United States, local governments still have monopolies on the sale of  alcoholic beverages. This model of regulating liquor was popular in counties and regions that had tried and given up on alcohol prohibition but still wanted liquor to be heavily controlled.

If Uruguay does legalize marijuana it could have huge political implications for the region. Many Latin American leaders have openly questioned the wisdom of the war on drugs, so if Uruguay’s legalization plan succeeds it could easily serve as a model for neighboring countries. Before that happens though, the bill first most win approval in Uruguay’s legislature, which could be a long and contentious fight.