Law & Politics, News

URUGUAY TO SELL OVER-THE-COUNTER IN JULY: A First for Latin America, and the Cannabis Industry

By: Kelly Vo

This July, Uruguay will begin selling cannabis in pharmacies, becoming the first country in the world to legally sell cannabis over the counter for recreational use.

The law, which requires buyers to sign up on the national registry—the Instituto de Regulacion y Control del Cannabis—will be up and running by May 2nd, and pharmacies will begin dispensing cannabis in July

It’s a huge step for Uruguay, and the cannabis industry as a whole.

The move to sell cannabis in pharmacies was set in motion back in 2013, when it was fully legalized in the South American country. But the rollout of the law has been slow the last three years. Initially, the country expected to have authorization for pharmacies to sell cannabis by the end of 2014, but the law was delayed over and over again.

Some good news has come from all those delays, however. So far, the Uruguayan government has made a deal with 16 drugstore chains to sell cannabis, and they’re hoping to have as many as 30 pharmacies registered by July.

Additionally, Presidential Aid Juan Andres Roballo revealed in a press conference that the country has already stockpiled 880 pounds of cannabis. All this flower is the work of two companies, Symbiosis and Iccorp, who have been licensed to cultivate up to two tons of cannabis a year. But if demand increases, Roballo expects the amount of cultivated marijuana will also grow.

And what can registrants expect to pay? The price is fairly reasonable. Roballo says it will cost approximately $1.30 USD per gram, and registrants can purchase up to 40 grams per month, or 10 grams per week. All purchases will be made in 5 gram containers, through 10 gram containers are expected to be introduced at a later date.

Currently, tourists or foreigners in the country for a limited time will not be allowed to purchase cannabis. To enroll in the national cannabis registry you must be a Uruguayan citizen or permanent resident, and at least 18 years or older.

Supporters of the law hope it will take money and power away from drug dealers, and instead move money toward the country’s legal businesses. And Roballo says that the cannabis being sold in pharmacies will be as potent as what is on the street.

“Buyers will have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming, and so the risks will diminish considerably,” says Roballo.

In addition, registrants will have the opportunity to purchase three different strains of cannabis, from a variety that is low in THC and high in CBD, to more potent options.

Since 2013, Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents have also had the option to grow up to six cannabis plants in the privacy of their own homes. Citizens can join private cannabis growers’ clubs of up to 45 members, which are authorized to grow as many as 99 plants annually.

The hope is that for the 3.4 million citizens of Uruguay, as well as the estimated 150,000 regular cannabis consumers, one of these options will work better than the black market.

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