Uruguay's government has sent Congress a bill to legalize marijuana and regulate the production, distribution and sale of the drug, touting it as a means of combating drug-trafficking and crime.

"The government will assume control and regulation over the activities of importing, producing, acquiring title, storing, selling and distributing marijuana and its derivatives," the proposed legislation says.

Presidential aide Diego Canepa confirmed that the legislation had been introduced and clarified that mention made in the bill regarding importation referred to marijuana seeds.

The measures will be carried out under a policy that is centered on "damage reduction" and which "informs the population about the harmful consequences and effects of marijuana consumption."

The draft states that the government's actions will in all cases follow the terms and conditions established in the bill to be debated in the coming weeks in Congress, where Mujica's leftist Broad Front coalition has a majority.

Canepa said the purpose of the bill was to wrest away from drug dealers a market valued at between $30 million and $40 million annually.

"No one is saying marijuana is good" but only that public policy that "has not produced the expected results over more than 50 years" must be changed," he added.

The initiative "will allow a very broad debate," after which Mujica plans to conduct an official poll to gauge public opinion, Canepa said.

The president has pledged to withdraw the measure if the Uruguayan people object to the plan in that official survey. Several unofficial polls taken thus far have shown 60 percent of Uruguayans oppose legalization.

One section of the bill presents assessments issued in 2011 by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

That commission, which has called for drastic reforms in global drug control policy, is made up of the former presidents of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso; Colombia, Cesar Gaviria; and Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, acclaimed author Mario Vargas Llosa and Spanish statesman Javier Solana, who served as NATO secretary-general.

The Uruguay's government's initiative "does not run contrary to any international law," Canepa said.

"The Netherlands has decriminalized the sale ... of marijuana since 1977 and that doesn't violate any international treaty," he said, referring to the tolerated sale of small quantities of cannabis products at "coffeeshops" in that European country. EFE