Uruguay sees marijuana sales consolidated 5 years after the start of trade in pharmacies


Five years after starting the sale of marijuana in pharmacies, ending the cycle of implementation of the marijuana regulation law passed in 2013, Uruguay shows signs of having built a stable system of production and consumption.

Today, there are more than 50,000 users registered and authorized to buy the weed at the 26 authorized drugstores across the country, to participate in cultivation clubs or to sow and keep up to six plants of the plant at home. Sale in pharmacies, clubs and self-cultivation are the three pillars of the legislation approved in the administration of José “Pepe” Mujica with the aim of containing drug trafficking.

“There were many fears that were not confirmed,” says Sergio Redín, owner of the Antártida pharmacy in Montevideo. “There was fear that the establishments would be robbed or that the more conservative customers would stop shopping there because of prejudice. You don’t see that anymore today.”

On July 19, 2017, when sales in stores began, lines were double blocks, and production, controlled by the state through granting licenses to companies, was insufficient to meet demand.

“In that initial phase it was more difficult, because the product did not arrive and there was confusion at the pharmacy door and a lot of media attention, which hindered sales. increased, today we even have excess stock”, says Redín.

Registered users, who must be Uruguayan or resident — no sale to tourists is allowed —, are entitled to buy ten grams per week. According to the Uruguayan Observatory of Drugs, 72% of consumers in pharmacies seek the product due to the relaxing effect and 47.7%, to minimize sleep disturbances.

The most common criticism from users who buy the drug in pharmacies is that the marijuana offered in these establishments is low in THC — the psychoactive element that causes changes in perception and can modify moods cannot exceed 9% of the product’s composition.

“The point in the legislation that worked best was self-cultivation, which bars punishment for growing marijuana at home,” says Eduardo Blasina, activist, agronomist and director of the Museo del Cannabis, in the nation’s capital. “Growing clubs have too many rules, they are difficult to enforce, they don’t work so well. And pharmacies have their audience, which is limited and specific. Overall, the law helped to break down the stigma that there was in society in relation to consumption. of marijuana.”

In the cultivation clubs, there is a limit of members, 40, and plants, 99. Those who sign up to participate in the association choose one of the members to take care of the entire production cycle, from planting to distribution to members. “It works partially, I think it puts a lot of limits that imprison us in these rules, so that the government has more freedom to commercially explore large-scale production”, says Guillermo Amandola, owner of a cultivation club.

The legislation allows only companies with licenses obtained from the state to grow marijuana for the production of medicines, clothing and cosmetics. There are American, Canadian and Spanish companies installed in the country for this purpose.

Although the law has less rejection today than it did in 2013 — it dropped from 44% to less than 30%, according to the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis — there are sectors of society and politics that are critical and even want to overturn the legislation. .

The current president of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, who was a supporter of cannabis legalization when he was a senator, approves part of the law. It favors the liberalization of consumption and commerce, but opposes production and distribution by the State. In a recent interview with the BBC, he stated that “the government does not have to grow or sell marijuana”. “That part of the law I didn’t pass.”

A sector further to the right, part of the ruling alliance, would like the law to be repealed. Guido Manini Ríos, senator and former army commander, leader of the Cabildo Abierto party, for example, says it is “abominable that the state is competing with drug traffickers instead of ending drug consumption once and for all.”

Abroad, criticism came, among others, from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (PL), who in a live broadcast said that “in Uruguay, there is an explosion in the number of homicides due, in large part, to marijuana”.

The Uruguayan government responded through the Minister of the Interior, Luis Alberto Heber: “Of course, we do not agree with this statement. Especially since the violence and many of the homicides that occur in Uruguay are related to the violence that comes from Brazil, in the border. And in Brazil marijuana is not legalized, but there is organized crime. We need to maintain a good relationship and, therefore, sometimes the best option is silence or care with words”.

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