Next week, Uruguay will begin sales of legal marijuana for adult residents. The marijuana legalization proposal was put forward by former President José Mujica in 2012 as part of a comprehensive package aimed at improving public safety. 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,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “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”).
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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; and Canada is set to become the next country to fully legalize marijuana.