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STEVE ELLIOTT

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International Momentum to End Marijuana Prohibition and War on Drugs Continues to Intensify

Uruguay next week will begin sales of legal marijuana for adult residents. It will become the first modern nation on Earth to fully legalize the production, sale and consumption of cannabis.

The marijuana legalization proposal was put forward by former President José Mujica in 2012. Uruguayan citizens must register as cannabis users to enter the program, reports The Associated Press. About 5,000 have done so.

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Uruguayan men take part in a march for the legalization of cannabis in front of the Legislative Palace in Montevideo, May 5, 2012, as part of the 2012 Global Marijuana March
[Miguel Rojo / AFP Photo]

The South American nation’s Cannabis Regulation and Control Institute announced Friday that weed will be available starting July 19 in 5-gram amounts at 16 pharmacies across the country. The packaging comes with a security stamp that guarantees authenticity and warnings about the supposed effects of consumption.

Uruguay’s parliament gave final approval to the measure in December 2013, making theirs the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults.

The rollout has been deliberately slow. Pharmacies were originally expected to be authorized to sell cannabis by the end of 2014, but that was delayed many times.

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Hannah Hetzer, Drug Policy Alliance:
“This is a historic moment”
[Esquire Latino]

“This is a historic moment,” said Hannah Hetzer, senior International Policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “In recent years, Latin American leaders have decried the staggering human, environmental and financial costs of the War on Drugs in their region. Uruguay is boldly demonstrating that concrete alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies are possible.”

In 2013, a broad coalition emerged to support the proposal, which included LGBT, women’s rights, health, student, environmental and human rights organizations, alongside trade unions, doctors, musicians, lawyers, athletes, writers, actors and academics, united under the campaign Regulación Responsable (“Responsible Regulation”).

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Former President Jose Mujica oversaw passage of Uruguay’s marijuana legalization law in 2013
[Matilde Campodonico / AP]

The Uruguayan model allows four forms of access to marijuana: medical marijuana through the Ministry of Public Health; domestic cultivation of up to six plants per household; membership clubs where up to 45 members can collectively produce up to 99 plants; and licensed sale in pharmacies to adult residents.

Regulation will be overseen by the government’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA). Sales to minors, driving under the influence of marijuana, and all forms of advertising are prohibited.

Customers will be limited to 40 grams (1.41 oz) per month, with a limit of 10 grams per week. That certainly seems a little stuffy to three-or-four-grams-a-day me, but I suppose it’s a start.

When marijuana goes on sale in drug stores, adults will only be able to buy it in 5-gram containers at $1.30 per gram. Ten-gram containers are expected to be introduced later, allowing customers to buy a whole week’s supply at once.

Foreigners, unfortunately, won’t be allowed to buy weed from pharmacies in Uruguay.

“Uruguay’s model will look quite different from the eight U.S. states that have legalized marijuana,” Hetzer continued. “There is no one-size-fits-all marijuana legalization system. It’s important for each jurisdiction to tailor marijuana regulation to their local needs and contexts, providing the world with different models to learn from.”

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Juan Andres Roballo, Uruguay National Drugs Council:
“Buyers will have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming”
[Uruguay Presidencia]

Juan Andres Roballo, who is the head of the National Drugs Council, said the government marijuana sold in pharmacies will be as potent as black market weed found on the street. “Buyers will have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming, and so the risks will diminish considerably,” he said.

“This is not to promote it, but to compete with the informal market,” according to Roballo. (I just love that he called it “the informal market” rather than “the black market” or “drug cartels.” That’s a much more civilized way of terming it.)

Since the bill was passed in 2013, the government has been developing regulations, registering domestic cultivators and membership clubs, and preparing for the implementation of licensed sales in pharmacies.

Two companies have received licenses to produce the marijuana sold in pharmacies, which will be available next week at $1.30 per gram. Each registered individual will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams a month.

Uruguayans are also allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home, or in cooperative with cannabis clubs.

Implementing licensed sales in Uruguay pharmacies took longer than anticipated. There was a presidential election in 2015, and a delay in funding for the IRCCA. Additionally, the government was committed to moving forward cautiously.

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The Big Mo: Worldwide Momentum

Marijuana reform gained remarkable momentum throughout the hemisphere in recent years. Twenty-nine U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana. Eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana more broadly.

Jamaica decriminalized marijuana for medical, scientific and religious purposes. Colombia and Puerto Rico legalized medical marijuana through executive orders. Chile allows for marijuana cultivation for oncology patients. Mexico recently passed a medical marijuana bill a year after their Supreme Court ruled that prohibition of marijuana for personal consumption is unconstitutional.

Canada is set to become the next country to fully legalize marijuana.

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