Uruguay Marijuana Reform Sees Progress, But Challenges Remain

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Almost two years after passing legislation to legalize the growth and sale of marijuana, Uruguay’s government says the country is almost ready to begin commercialization. The process has been slowed by political and regulatory challenges, but may yet serve as a model for other Latin American countries seeking drug policy reform.

In a recent interview with the AFP, the secretary general for Uruguay’s National Drug Council, Milton Romani, stated that the government still has to finalize the registry software for pharmacy sales and determine distribution companies, but that marijuana production is almost ready. According to Romani, regulations will allow for the production and sale of six to 10 tons of marijuana per year. 

In early October, Uruguayan authorities announced they had selected two companies to grow marijuana that would be sold in pharmacies. Each company will be allowed to grow a maximum of two tons of marijuana, and officials said the price will be near the black market cost for the drug at approximately $1.20 per gram.  

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Uruguay is pioneering the movement towards drug legalization in Latin America, and the recent developments are further steps towards realizing marijuana reform. However, political and logistical obstacles have slowed this process.

President Tabare Vazquez, who took office again in 2014 after his tenure as president from 2005 to 2010, has taken a cautious approach to the implementation of marijuana legalization. While campaigning, Vazquez took a more conservative stance on legalization than former president Jose Mujica, who had championed the law. In March 2015, the government temporarily suspended the commercialization process, saying they wanted to make sure they were implementing the law in the correct manner. Meanwhile, the Uruguayan public remains largely opposed to marijuana legalization. 

SEE ALSO: Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

A recent report by El Daily Post details the complex regulatory process that has contributed to Uruguay’s slow rollout of the law. The regulation of pharmacy sales entails the registration and monitoring of producers, processors, distributors and users.  This requires in-depth oversight by Uruguay’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a regulatory body founded after the passage of the 2013 law. 

The Uruguayan government’s cautious and painstaking approach to marijuana commercialization may prove successful in the long run, even as it generates skepticism and frustration at present. If the law is eventually considered a success, it may set a precedent for other countries in the region calling for drug policy reform

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