Nearly one year after the cultivating and selling marijuana became legal in the country of Uruguay, the country now has 1,200 registered and authorized cannabis growers according to the head of the National Drugs Board, Julio Calzada.
“It is encouraging to have 1,200 growers after three or four months since the law came into effect.”
Calzada emphatically stated, adding the implementation of the new cannabis laws are coming along “on a clear path, carefully and under control.”
President-elect Tabare Vazquez has no plans to halt the progress either, stating his government will abide by the law authorizing the grow and sale of marijuana through pharmacies (dispensaries). However, Vazquez made it clear his administration was open to adding new regulations if necessary.
Similar to caregiver systems in state side medical marijuana programs, Uruguay allows for ‘cannabis clubs’ that are registered with the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis. Calzada estimated that nearly 500 had already registered. Each club is permitted to grow up to 99 plants and a maximum of 45 members. That said, Calzada said he thinks most people will gain access to their medicine through the pharmacies.
Most importantly, it seems the medical community is open to the implementation of the law as well.
“We will abide by this law and we will have a very strict monitoring to see how it works.”
Said Vazquez, a medical doctor. “If the need arises to amend the law, we will send a bill to parliament to be debated.”
The government has not announced which companies will be operating cultivation facilities or pharmacies, preventing legislators from putting the final touches on the legal framework concerning the distribution of product to pharmacies.
In September of this year, the Chilean government announced that it would begin growing marijuana for medical research. In the short time since, research combined with lobbying by patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions has been enough for the government to permit marijuana to be planted, now, for medical use.
Today, a grow operation of seven-hundred-fifty medical marijuana plants will be set up in a residential neighborhood within the capital city district of La Florida just outside of Santiago. The plan is to harvest the plants in the spring to be turned into cannabis oil to treat chronic pain symptoms in two-hundred cancer patients.
The project is the first of it’s kind in Latin America, but joins a growing trend of research devoted to harnessing the medicinal value of the plant. The study will be conducted by Daya Foundation which are looking to test it’s efficacy as a pain reliever and a treatment for epilepsy.
For now, marijuana is only being considered for medical use. La Florida’s Mayor, Rodolfo Carter, told BBC News that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of Uruguay’s total legalization at this time.
“We don’t want to get into a debate about the personal use of marijuana. Let’s stick to the medical issue. This is about providing people who are suffering from cancer with a natural, healthier and cheaper treatment for their pain.”
Nicolas Dormal from the Daya Foundation says, “Cannabis can have some negative side effects but they are really insignificant beside other legal medicines. If you put the negative and positive effects in the balance, cannabis is much better than traditional medicine.”
One Chilean woman can agree with Nicolas from experience. Cecilia Heyder has obtained permission to use cannabis-based medicines after she was diagnosed with lupus and subsequently breast cancer. After trying over a dozen traditional pain relief medication with no success, Heyder used cannabis-infused tea to treat her pain.
The cannabis worked and Heyder went on to petition the government for access to medicinal marijuana. The government agreed to Cecilia’s requests and allowed her to import the medicine from Europe for the first time in Latin American history.
As countries like Chile and Uruguay struggle to find the right marijuana policy, lets hope for the patients’ sake that medical marijuana makes it to individuals like Cecilia Heyder who are in desperate need of the right medicine.
Photo Credit: BBC
Things are heating up in South America. Uruguay has recently been a hot topic in media coverage for becoming the first country to, nationally, legalize the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana. President José Mujica is quite unique in terms of heads of state, and not just because of his crime filled background. After being elected, he chose to pass on a government provided mansion to, instead, reside in his own farm house, and he is never afraid to speak his mind. The social and political environment in Uruguay has made their approach to legalization much different than comparable medicinal and recreational markets in America. President Mujica has appointed Julio Calzada as the head of Uruguay’s national drug agency. He has developed the plan for legal marijuana regulation and taxation.
1. Here Come The Taxes
Uruguay’s taxation plan is much friendlier to consumers than current recreational tax rates in Colorado and Washington. In Uruguay, marijuana will be sold to the public completely tax free. The tax burden will fall on growing and cultivation companies. These companies will be charged a variable fee that can escalate based on the black market price of the crop.
“There are taxes. Sure there are taxes!” he said. “There’s a tax that the growers will be subject to, and that will be variable.”
He elaborated: “The central objective of this variable fee is competing with the black market. So, if marijuana is selling on the street for 25 pesos ($1 a gram), the fee, which is a percentage, must allow companies to sell legal cannabis at 25 pesos a gram.”
The reasoning behind not taxing consumers, is to be able to compete with marijuana being sold on the black market. If a consumer can purchase it cheaper from non-regulated drug dealers, why would they pay more to purchase from a regulated source? This is all a plan to fight crime and take the marijuana drug market from the cartels. It is not a plan to make money from the sale of marijuana.
2. High Business Demand
Uruguay’s government is offering only three licenses for growing and cultivating the government regulated marijuana that will be sold, legally, in pharmacies. There are far more applicants than there are available licenses. There are over twenty applicants. The majority of those applying are residents of Uruguay, however, there are a few international applicants.
These applicants are all aware of the price point for the marijuana they are applying to cultivate. According to Calzada, this is evidence that it is possible to grow and sell this product at the price point equal to about $1 per gram.
3. $1 a gram? Prove it
Uruguay’s government claims to have a study about marijuana cultivation, packaging, and sales that proves it is possible to grow for $1 per gram or less. Calzada will not allow anyone to read it, however. This study proving this price point has not been released to the people of Uruguay, nor anyone else.
Drug Chief, Calzada, told the Global Post that no one will read the top-secret document except for the three applicants that will be awarded the positions of government marijuana cultivator.
4. No International Pressure
Uruguayan government officials have reported that the country has not been attacked, bullied, or even talked down to by the United States government, nor any other country’s government, in light of the new plan for government legalization and regulation of cannabis. Phew! It would been quite hypocritical if the United States government had pressured Uruguay to eradicate the new policies, considering two of the United States have legalized recreational marijuana, and twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana.
Uruguay did receive warnings, however, from the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board. The UN reached out because legalized marijuana throughout the entire country does go against the policies of the International Narcotics Control Board, of which Uruguay is a signed member. The UN seems to hold the stand point that Uruguay should either resign from the UN, or continue to uphold the policies associated.
President Jose Mujica, did not receive this outreach from the United Nations well. President Mujica feels strongly that he is making decisions in the best interest of his country, Uruguay.
5. No Puff, Just Pass
Julio Calzado just says no to smoking marijuana. He does not ingest the plant in any form, but he understands that the people of Uruguay do consume cannabis. According to the National Drug Council, at least 120,000 of the over three million people in Uruguay, consume marijuana on a yearly basis, and at least 20,000 people are daily users of cannabis. This head of agency hears those numbers loud and clear.
photo credit: Steve Wilhelm