At a pharmacy in Montevideo’s old town, five customers were waiting to buy when the store shutters went up at the start of the day, reports Mauricio Rabafetti at AFP News. “I’ve been smoking since I was 14. Let’s give it a try,” said a 37-year-old man who would not give his name or allow his picture to be taken.
“There was a lot of hard work to finally come to this day,” Uruguay’s drug czar, Diego Olivera said, reports Leonardo Habercorn at the Associated Press. “It is a challenging and complex project, and today we have taken a step forward.”
The Rules Are Kind Of A Buzzkill
“The rules are a bit of a buzzkill,” according to The New York Times. Cannabis users are required to officially register with the government. Buyers’ fingerprints will be machine-scanned at every purchase, and there are strict quotas to prevent overindulgence.
Under the law, only Uruguayan citizens and legal permanent residents are allowed to purchase or grow pot.
In all, just 16 pharmacies have been authorized to sell cannabis under state controls, barely enough to cover a country of 3.5 million people. No major pharmacy chain has agreed to sell marijuana. Many pharmacies have been unwilling to become points of sale for weed, because of concerns about security and doubts that the small market of registered users is worth the trouble.
Government Limits Users To 10 Grams A Week
The government limits how much people can buy each week. In an effort to undercut the black market, Uruguay is setting the price below street rates, charging roughly $13 for 10 grams, enough for about 15 average joints. The law also bars advertising and sets aside a percentage of proceeds from commercial sales to pay for “addiction treatment” and public awareness campaigns about the supposed “risks of drug use.”
Only about 5,000 people, most of them age 30 to 44, have signed up as prospective buyers since Uruguay’s state registry opened in early May. Walk-in sales are not permitted under the law, and only residents of Uruguay can register to buy pot — thereby preventing marijuana tourism.
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.
“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.”
“The great responsibility we have in Uruguay is to show the world that this system of freedom with regulation works better than prohibition,” said Eduardo Blasina, the founder of the Montevideo Cannabis Museum.
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”).
Four Forms of Access
The Uruguayan model allows four forms of access to cannabis:
• 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 registered adult residents.
Nearly 7,000 people registered to grow weed at home, and more than 60 smokers’ clubs have been authorized.
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.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
“Uruguay’s model will look quite different from the eight U.S. states that have legalized marijuana,” Hetzer said. “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.”
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.
Implementing licensed sales in pharmacies took longer than anticipated, due to a presidential election in 2015, a delay in funding for the IRCCA, and the government’s commitment to moving forward cautiously.
Two Varieties; Five-Gram Packets For $6.50
Two companies have received licenses to produce the marijuana sold in pharmacies, which will be available at $1.30 per gram. Each registered individual will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams a month.
The IRCC has authorized the sale of two types of cannabis, to be sold in five-gram packets. On Monday, the National Drugs Council tweeted an image of what the packages would look like: blue-and-white sealed sachets that look something like condom packets.
An “Alfa I” package contains “Alfa I variety cannabis hybrid with Indica predominant.” The other kind is “Beta I variety cannabis” with Sativa. The five-gram packets are being retailed at $6.50 each, according to the IRCCA.
Only 2% THC? REALLY??The levels of THC — the psychotropic constituent in cannabis — are given on the outside, for consumer information. The BBC is reporting that both varieties measure only 2 percent(!) THC, which is miserably weak — even borderline useless — by modern standards.
“:Both varieties have a relatively low content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), local experts said, referring to the active ingredient in the plant that creates the high,” reports Malena Castaldi at Reuters.
If government weed is only 2 percent THC, that definitely makes growing your own, or joining a cultivation club, a more attractive option than buying from pharmacies.
Uruguay Leads Global Movement
Marijuana reform gained remarkable momentum throughout the hemisphere in recent years. Twenty-nine U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana, while 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.