25 March 2015
The Guardian (UK) reports
The first country in the world to legalize marijuana sales was Uruguay, a tiny South American nation with a population of only 3.3 million wedged between Brazil and Argentina.
Uruguay fully legalized the production and sale of marijuana in December 2013 after a decade-long grassroots movement headed by mostly middle-class consumers managed to convince the government it was safer to legally sell weed rather than to allow drug dealers to run the market.
The system now in place grants licenses to private producers for large-scale cannabis farming and regulates its distribution at a controlled price of about one dollar a gram through pharmacies to registered consumers.
Private individuals are also allowed up to six plants at home. Larger amounts can be grown at “cannabis clubs” where individuals band together to produce marijuana in greater quantities as long as it is not for sale.
Legal sales through pharmacies are expected to begin in the second half of this year. Earlier this month the government opened the registry for pharmacists wishing to sell legal weed. These must install fingerprint recognition software to identify consumers as well as wall-mounted safety boxes to protect the maximum two kilos of marijuana each pharmacy will be allowed to maintain in stock.
Consumers must register with the government and will be allowed to purchase 10 grams per week.
Private consumption of drugs of any kind – including heroin and cocaine – was never actually banned by law in this atypically liberal South American nation, but the commercial production of marijuana was prohibited until the new law three years ago.
And there are still concerns regarding the system, particularly over the safety of pharmacists who the government fears could face threats from drug dealers angry at the low-priced legal competition.
…………Uruguayans have taken to the new law with gusto. Marijuana use is commonplace today in the capital city of Montevideo, where people smoke weed openly on the streets and grow shops and hemp clothes boutiques dot the colonial downtown shopping district.
The law was passed by Uruguay’s former president José Mujica, a one-time revolutionary who claims to have never smoked marijuana. Mujica was responsible for other liberal reforms including the legalization of abortion, which remains illegal in the rest of South America, before stepping down from office last year.
“I’m scared by the drug trafficking, not by the drug,” Mujica has said.
The marijuana law has been upheld and is now being put into practice by his successor, the oncologist Tabaré Vázquez, who meanwhile has been leading his own crusade against tobacco consumption.