Around the World with Cannabis

What’s up with Uruguay?

Here at The Green Solution® , we like to keep an eye on global cannabis culture and the rules and regulations that govern our favorite herb in other countries. Last month we took a look at Japan, and this month we turn to South America, and Uruguay specifically.

A 2013 measure made Uruguay the first country to legalize cannabis sales nationwide, but political wrangling postponed actual sales until this summer. Currently, cannabis can be purchased at one of 16 state-owned pharmacies for the mandated price of $1.30 a gram. But there are caveats. A July article in the Washington Post says that “Uruguay’s government has developed a legalization model whose apparent goal is to make marijuana use as boring as possible.” That means, among other things, no edibles, no advertising, and no sales to non-citizens. Uruguay’s cannabis sales will not be commercialized, as they are in U.S. states where legalization has occurred.

Julio Calzada, one of the public health officials who designed Uruguay’s regulatory model, says “The risk of what they’re doing in Colorado is that you end up with something like the tobacco industry. The concept here is totally different.” There are only two private firms authorized to supply the government with cannabis (four tons a year), and they’re not even allowed to put their company labels on the packaging. Their products are simply called “Alpha 1” and “Beta 1.”

While the purchase of cannabis is legal for any Uruguayan citizen who’s 18 or older, there are rules to how much a consumer can buy – 40 grams per month is the limit. In order to keep track of who’s bought how much, the nation created a registry, and instead of having an ID, buyers will have their thumb print scanned. The scanner links to the government’s database and lets the pharmacist know how much cannabis the consumer is eligible to purchase.

At TGS, we’re glad to see the nearly global prohibition of cannabis being rolled back – even if, for now, cannabis is being legalized one country at a time. Let’s hope the U.S. is next.