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Legalization won't fix world's drugs problem: U.N. official

VIENNA (Reuters) - Legalization will not solve the world’s narcotics problem, the U.N. anti-drugs chief said on Monday, indicating disagreement with a decision by Uruguay to allow the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana.

In a move that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization, Uruguay’s parliament in December approved a bill to legalize and regulate the sale and production of marijuana - the first country to take such a step.

In the United States, Washington and Colorado states recently legalized the sale of cannabis under license, although federal law in the country has not changed.

Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said it was the prerogative of member states to decide “what needs to be done” and how they envisage the implementation of relevant international law.

“However, as the head of UNODC, I have to say that legalization is not a solution to the (world’s) drug problem,” Fedotov told reporters ahead of a major international meeting on the issue in Vienna on March 13-14.

“It is very hard to say that this law (adopted by Uruguay’s parliament) is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions,” he said, referring to treaties including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Uruguay’s attempt to quell drug trafficking is being followed closely in Latin America, where the legalization of some narcotics is being increasingly seen by regional leaders as a possible way to end the violence spawned by the cocaine trade.

Other countries have decriminalized marijuana possession and the Netherlands allows its sale in coffee shops, but Uruguay will be the first nation to legalize the whole chain from growing the plant to buying and selling its leaves.

Uruguay’s new marijuana laws are scheduled to take effect in April. Citizens will be allowed to grow up to six plants a year in their homes and will be able to buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) a month at pharmacies licensed by the state.

In Mexico, left-wing senators last month presented an initiative to legalize medical marijuana, saying a new approach was needed to speed up drug liberalization and help end a cycle of cartel violence that has killed tens of thousands.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Toby Chopra