Uruguay is the only country in Latin America with fully legalized recreational cannabis. The country stands alone in the region where its neighbours have particularly harsh cannabis laws. For example, Paraguay has embarked on a slash and burn policy when it comes to eliminating cannabis grows. But Uruguay persists with a liberal approach to drugs.
Uruguay became the world’s first nation to pass a bill legalizing, the production, sale, and distribution of cannabis. However, as many as two-thirds of Uruguayans support repealing the cannabis law. On a political front, Tabor Vasquez, head of the coalition Broad Front remains well ahead of his challenger, Luis Lacalle Pou of the center-right National Party. Pou said he would keep the part of the bill that allows users to grow their own cannabis plants at home (up to six per household) and authorize the so-called social clubs, but he said he would repeal the rest, in particular, the state’s commercialization of the drug. He is referring to the licensed sale and distribution of cannabis in pharmacies.
Currently, residents of Uruguay are allowed to buy cannabis at a few pharmacies in the country at prices that would make any North American make a double take. As it stands cannabis from pharmacies in Uruguay costs one dollar a gram. The price is set so low as to combat the illegal black market in the commodity and to ensure that Uruguayans always prefer buying their cannabis through the legal channels.
However, when the market took off in 2017 there were many problems. First off, there were way more buyers than predicted and lineups were a major issue. Second, they did not have enough supply to meet demand.
This has happened in a few other places that have legalized cannabis, at least at the start, it’s always a rocky road. Nevada had a similar problem when it implemented its recreational market, citing long lines and supply shortages as major difficulties.
So even though it appears as though Uruguayans don’t really care for the new law, there are certainly many, many of them that are partaking in the new government-sanctioned cannabis.
Registered consumers are able to buy five-gram packets for 6.50 each. Anyone over the age of 18 can register to become a cannabis consumer and can buy up to 40 grams monthly for their personal use. Currently, there are two brands available, Alfa 1, and Beta 1.
The product is grown, packaged and distributed by two companies, Symbiosis, and Iccorp, which are authorized by the state. Production is carefully monitored to prevent it being sold to foreigners or leaving the country.
The original movement to legalize cannabis statewide in Uruguay was presented by president Jose Mujica, a leftist ex-guerilla who promoted a number of progressive reforms in Uruguay. The main goal of which was to crack down on drug trafficking, allowing the government to regulate and tax a market that was being run by criminals.
Due to the fact that roughly 60 percent of Uruguayans opposed the reform, the rollout was slow, and the authorization for pharmacies to sell cannabis was postponed several times. However, since Jose Mujica’s party held a majority in the government, the legislation was able to pass, and even though it was slow to start, seems to be here for good. The opposition says they would repeal parts of the bill but they have no mechanisms at their disposal to do such a thing, currently.
But what they have going on in Uruguay certainly is interesting. To buy cannabis a person must register, then they use a thumbprint scanner to identify themselves once inside a pharmacy. So it’s a fairly high-tech experience. Only a few people will ever have access to the registry of customers and they must all be present at the same time to access information about those who are registered.
People critical of this system point out that there is not a registry for alcohol consumers, and that it is a far more dangerous substance. They point out that it kind of stigmatizes cannabis users, and that having official records of who uses cannabis is somewhat of a discrimination.
However, things are really coming together for the standalone country that allows recreational cannabis use in Latin America. Their market is up and running, and that’s more than we can say is happening Canada. It took them some time to finally get going, but now that it’s here, it appears to be here to stay. The pharmacies, the government, and the population are all working together to make this system work.
Unfortunately, Uruguay will not be a cannabis vacation destination, as you have to be a registered Uruguayan to take advantage of their system, but still, it would be a pretty nice place visit.