While the United States continues to mainstream cannabis from state to state, marijuana reform has also taken hold all over the world, with many different countries starting the process of rewriting archaic cannabis laws. One country that is now well ahead of the curve is Uruguay, which just became the very first country in the world to fully regulate the cannabis industry. Following a landmark bill in 2013 and a cautious implementation, certified Uruguayan pharmacies can now sell cannabis directly to adults with the full backing of the law, with prices expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 per five grams.
Not long after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, Uruguay was able to hobble together an impressive alliance that helped back the bill to legalize marijuana throughout the country. Although the bill was contentious, the group made up of human rights organizations, medical professionals, lawyers and prominent actors was able to win enough public support to help usher the bill through, effectively bringing marijuana out of the shadows throughout the country.
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In the years after the monumental move, however, the implementation has been slow and deliberate, as lawmakers have carefully pieced together an intricate program based on fairly strict regulation. Utilizing fingerprint technology, the government is allowing sales to anyone over 18 as long as they register with the government. While only an estimated 5,000 Uruguayans registered at the time that the announcement was made in mid-July, the numbers are expected to grow substantially as cannabis begins to hit shelves all over the country. The major step forward also fits a wide-spanning trend in Latin America, as popular opinion throughout the diverse region has started to get more favorable in recent years. In addition to Uruguay, both Mexico and Chile have shown clear majority support for legalized marijuana, marking significant shifts from prior public opinion.
But even though the breakthrough for cannabis in Uruguay is certainly significant, it also is unlikely to serve as much of a blueprint for states moving towards legalization in the United States. Aiming specifically to avoid becoming known as a cannabis tourist destination, Uruguay is allowing two different strains to be purchased by registered citizens only and shows no signs of letting cannabis blossom into a major industry. On the opposite side of the spectrum, states like Colorado have become widely known as cannabis tourist hot spots and recently unveiled more than $500 million in tax revenue already. At this point, it’s improbable that a state would adopt similar regulations as Uruguay, although the symbolic implications could still be profound throughout the world as attitudes on cannabis continue to shift.
Where Uruguay could have similarity to cannabis legalization in the United States is actually outside of the traditional shops. Although what citizens are allowed to buy directly from a regular store will be tightly controlled, there appears to be significantly more wiggle room elsewhere, as registered adults can now grow up to six plants or join cannabis clubs of 45 members or less. So even if Uruguay will keep the lid on what you can actually purchase from one of the country’s 16 pharmacies, cannabis is now extremely easy to access throughout the country for citizens.
More than anything, the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Uruguay shows that the process – difficult as it might be – is doable on a large scale, further aiding cannabis advocates ready to move forward in other parts of the world. Although every country (or state) will have a variety of different considerations for how to best regulate marijuana, pioneering countries like Uruguay offer an outline on how to proceed into the unchartered territory of a complex issue. As the above-board cannabis industry begins to take shape in Uruguay and other countries like Canada, the domino effect of legalizing cannabis appears to be accelerating.
This post was originally published on July 25, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.