One of the various countries that legalized marijuana, is now Uruguay. The marijuana legislation in the South American country allows the use of recreational cannabis. Back in December 2013, Uruguay successfully became the first country to authorize marijuana. The country with a total population of over 3.5 million at the time, released the Uruguay legal cannabis movement which was an incredibly pioneering effort for the legalization. Moreover, this laid the foundation for Canada to follow the footsteps of Uruguay, and become the second country to legalize marijuana in 2018.
However, with the legalization, followed multiple hurdles. Although groundbreaking, after the legislation was passed, the path towards the execution to the general public, was unsteady and was even abruptly paused at many times. The Brookings Institution, in March 2018, examined the challenges and opportunities of the legalization in Uruguay. Ultimately, the researchers discovered the threat of the illegal market. They believed that the framework of the current regulation was insufficient to completely replace and end the illegal market.
The majority of the banks in Uruguay denied the exploration of any business with marijuana organizations in the fear of refusal for prospective businesses emerging from the United Nations members, and the financial institutions in the United States, due to their classification of marijuana as an illegal drug. Four years after the law was passed, in 2017, only 17 out of the 1,000 government pharmacies were offering cannabis, owing to the significant pressure from the banks. Moreover, those 1 pharmacies sold cannabis on a cash basis to avoid any bank transactions or association.
Marijuana consumption in Uruguay
The World Health Organization’s efforts to reclassify marijuana and also acknowledge the medicinal advantages of the plant show great promise of a legal cannabis industry in many countries. However, the National Police and the Ministry f Health have been indecisive over the policies and their enforcement.
According to the Uruguay drug laws, cannabis availability to the citizens and permanent residents of Uruguay, 18 and older, is permitted. However, tourists are not granted permission. Cannabis is legally allowed to be purchased only from pharmacies managed under the government. Any eligible individual may purchase up to 1.4 ounces, or 40 grams, per month.
Moreover, the cannabis laws of Uruguay strictly forbid any use of cannabis in indoor public spaces where tobacco use is not allowed. Any promotion or advertising is also forbidden. Non-medical (recreational users) are instructed to purchase marijuana from one of the 3 legalized forms of cannabis available
- Commercial purchase
After the passing of the law, pharmacies were not initially required to sell cannabis and were given the option to not be involved in the cannabis industry. This initiated more popularity for the few pharmacies that actually do sell marijuana. The government is creating dispensaries designated with a specific form of cannabis.
According to the marijuana law of Uruguay, each citizen is granted permission to cultivate to 6 plants at home. However, the yield was legally limited to 17 ounces (480 grams) of marijuana yearly. Cannabis grower clubs were allowed to have a minimum of 15 workers and a maximum of 45 members. Moreover, they were legally allowed to grow an increasing number of plants, proportional to the marijuana quota (annual) per member. The only 2 commercially grown cannabis strains authorized by the government, both have a 9% THC cap. Commercial growers are instructed o apply individually for the state license for the legal production and sale of cannabis. Up until March 2018, only 2 companies were given the state license, which led to a shortage in supply.
In February 2019, officials began the issuance of applications to authorize producers to legally grow commercial marijuana. The authorized growers would have a production quota of 4400 pounds, or 2000 kilograms, annually, of dried flower. No other products were allowed. Furthermore, every producer would be given 3 hectares of land owned by the government) with the plants grown indoors.
Authorization and testing
The Ministry of Public Health is the regulating authority through the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA). Currently, no lab testing is required in Uruguay. While the cannabis flower’s availability is legalized, the procedures for the approval of CBD and medical cannabis have had their hurdles. The Cannabis Monitor Uruguay states that 23% of medical cannabis patients, have purchased it from out of Uruguay. However, the ones who do avail of medical cannabis from within the country, have done so either
- with the means of self-cultivation (either with or without any registration in the IRCCA) or
- through the supply given by other individuals, such as producers of extracts, growers, etc.)
An executive order in 2015, directed the IRCCA to legally authorize the medical physicians to only prescribe cannabis in monthly dosages. However, there was the availability of only 1 CBD product, i.e Epifractan, by prescription. It is at either, 2% or 5% extracts, and are imported into the country in 10-millimeter vials.
Synthetic cannabinoids or the cannabinoid oral sprays need prescriptions with restrictions and specifications, directly issued from the Ministry of Public Health, to qualify them for an exception. The validity of the prescriptions is 30 days before a new one would need to be issued. During the period of 30 days, the patients are not permitted to access other forms of legalized cannabis.
The benefits of legalization
3 years after the successful legalization of recreational cannabis, the former president of the country’s national drug agency, Diego Olivera, considered it to be a “tangible” success. Amidst the legalization, the opponents predicted numerous calamities, none of which occurred. Some of the advantages of legalization included
- The consumption of marijuana among teens in high school did not drastically increase.
- The perception regarding the risks associated with marijuana, which was a primary worry for opponents, maintained stability among adolescents.
- There was an increase in the consumption of marijuana among adults. However, the rate of consumption was typically similar to the rate before the elections.
However, according to Olivera, there was no deterioration in the public health indicators, which would be a red flag suggesting the reversal of the legalization. The legalization in Uruguay proved to be a positive step towards the cannabis industry and laid the foundation for cannabis legalizations in other countries and states. While medical cannabis and recreational cannabis have their own advantages, positive ongoing research urges more countries to reconsider the illegality of cannabis.