Starting in July, the South American nation of Uruguay will begin selling legal cannabis in pharmacies all across the country. In this long anticipated move, Uruguay will be the first country to completely legalize recreational cannabis usage. While the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of marijuana have been legal since 2013, the implementation of direct access via pharmacy sales has been slow to roll out.
As of now, sixteen pharmacies have begun the process of registration with the federal government of Uruguay. In the coming months, that number is expected to double with growing interest and demand for accessible cannabis. The goal of this process is to “guarantee the quality and the purity of the product” that citizens consume, said Juan Roballo, head of the National Drug Board.
Here is what we know about the new regulations in Uruguay:
- Buyers 18 and up must sign up for a national registry of marijuana users to ensure they have fulfilled licensing procedures.
- Cannot exceed the monthly maximum purchase of 40 grams (1.4 ounces).
- Cannot exceed a maximum weekly purchase of 10 grams.
- The registry is open only to Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents.
- 1 gram of Marijuana will cost $1.30, and will be sold in containers of 5 or 10 grams.
- Portions of profits from the legal sales of cannabis will go to government drug-use prevention programs.
Supply Will Not Meet Demand
The Cannabis to be sold in Uruguay pharmacies will be largely grown by privatized companies with oversight of the government in state-supervised fields. So far, the country has a reserve of around 900 pounds, far less than the expected demand for cannabis when pharmacy sales start in July.
“We’re far from covering the real demand,”
said Roballo, “but starting sales will enable the companies to ramp up production.”
With an estimated 150,000 regular cannabis users in Uruguay, the 2,000kg production limit set by the government will most certainly not be enough.
Initially, the government had intended to choose five companies that would each produce 2,000 kilograms every year. However, after an investigation into potential drug cartel bids, the government ended up choosing just two producers. Advocates for the legal sale of cannabis in pharmacies say that it will funnel money into legal business, and away from drug traffickers.
“Buyers will have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming, and so the risks will diminish considerably,”
Opposition from Pharmacies
The lengthy period of implementation for this law, noted earlier, is mainly due to the opposition from many pharmacists. Even with the legal sales beginning in less than three months, the issue is still not completely resolved.
“We are still not convinced pharmacies are the best place to sell recreational drugs,” says the spokesperson for the country’s pharmacists’ union, Carlos Fernandez, “but we are starting to prepare ourselves to do it in the sense of giving advice to people about the risks.”
Cannabis as a Political Issue
The marijuana law being references was passed under the former president José Mujica, and has made life a little more difficult for current president and former cancer doctor Tabaré Vázquez. During Vázquez’s first term as president from 2005-2010, he passed strict anti-smoking legislation. Two years ago, the president said that he would follow through with the legalization and implementation of the law, but was in “no hurry” to do so.
In addition to the legal sale of cannabis in pharmacies across Uruguay, the government also allows citizens to grow their own marijuana in collective cannabis farming co-ops. This provides a way for those who are opposed to government registry and quantity limits to still obtain legal cannabis. While the sale of legal marijuana is restricted to citizens and permanent residents, odds are that Uruguay will not become the next cannabis tourism hot-spot anytime soon. It does however, make life easier for those living in Uruguay looking to purchase cannabis legally, and without difficulty.