Buenos Aires Times

latin america MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION

As Canada awaits, Uruguay's legal cannabis project provides benchmark

When first introduced by leftist president José 'Pepe' Mujica, the legalisation project was initially criticised and rejected by the public. But over the years attitudes have gradually changed and now the population is largely supportive of the move.

Tuesday 16 October, 2018
An employee with medicinal marijuana plants in the flowering room at Tweed INC. in Smith Falls, Ontario.
An employee with medicinal marijuana plants in the flowering room at Tweed INC. in Smith Falls, Ontario. Foto:Lars Hagberg / AFP

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As Canada prepares to become the second country in the world to legalise the use of marijuana, experts say Uruguay’s pioneering move three years ago helped to reduce drug-trafficking in the Argentina's neighbouring nation.

Before marijuana started to be sold in pharmacies in July 2017, Uruguay legalised the production, distribution and sale of the drug for recreational purposes in 2013.

When first introduced by leftist president José 'Pepe' Mujica, the legalisation project was initially criticised and rejected by the public. But over the years attitudes have gradually changed and now the population is largely supportive of the move.

Four types of marijuana are currently available in the country, and all are sold in five grammes (0.18 ounces) packets costing US$1.40 per grammes. Registered users, either citizens or foreign residents, can buy up to 40 grams a month.

Generally, users in Uruguay have different ways to access cannabis: growing it at home, with a limit of six plants per person; growing it in a club as part of a cooperative; or buying it in the pharmacy.

No increase in usage

Fear-mongers who predicted the project would lead to a surge of doped-up lay-abouts have so far been proved wrong, according to Monitor Cannabis.

The academic group that studies the government's marijuana project said that cannabis use has "shown an increase that isn't extraordinary with respect to the trend" observed prior to legalisation.

Between July 2017 and July 2018, 100 percent of the 1,200 kilogrammes (2,645 pounds) of marijuana produced was sold to the public. Buyers would even queue up outside pharmacies once stocks were replenished, alerted by the pharmacists themselves.

Official statistics from the Cannabis Regulation and Control Institute (IRCCA) report that 54 percent of those who consume cannabis regularly do so through legal means – a demonstration of how legalisation has helped tracking the evolution of marijuana usage.

"The priority is to increase the system's reach," sociologist Sebastián Aguiar says in his publication: "A year of advances and opportunities."

Risks

If every registered buyer could purchase the maximum allocation of 40 grammes, "50 percent of the total annual demand for cannabis would be taken from the illegal market, equivalent to US$22.5 million."

However, not everyone wants to encourage greater use of marijuana.

President Tabaré Vázquez launched a campaign on October 1 called "Regulating is being responsible," which aims to provide education about "the risks, effects and potential damages" provoked by the use of cannabis.

The country has also faced many challenges with banking system limitations imposed on companies working in the cannabis sector due to United States legislation.

The banking restrictions, a fear of attracting crime due to the presence of drugs in stores, and the simple opposition of some pharmacists to the project has resulted in only a small number of pharmacies opting to sell marijuana.

Uruguay now registers 7,000 cultivators, 107 cooperative production clubs, 28,500 buyers and 17 distributor pharmacies.

By Mauricio Rabufetti, AFP

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