Uruguay Marijuana Law Aims to Prevent Drug Tourism

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Only citizens and residents of Uruguay will be able to buy legal marijuana, a move likely aimed at averting drug tourism as the small South American nation continues to hammer out the rules for its recently sanctioned marijuana market.

The measure seemingly puts an end to fears of Uruguay evolving into a Latin American version of Dutch city Amsterdam — where marijuana decriminalization has contributed to it becoming a drug tourism hotspot — with non-Uruguayan residents required to live in the country for more than a year before being eligible to buy legal marijuana, according to the Nuevo Herald. 

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

Uruguay legalized the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of marijuana last December, but officials are still determining how the country will regulate a marijuana market expected to begin operations at the end of this year. The rules, now two weeks overdue, are not final, but several likely measures have been leaked, including that all marijuana plants grown in Uruguay will be tracked through radio tags and genetic markers.

According to EFE, drivers will also be routinely stopped and tested for THC, the active drug in marijuana. The report does not detail the sanctions to be implemented in cases of positive THC results.

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While Uruguay’s distance from Europe and the United States would likely prevent hordes of marijuana enthusiasts descending on the country, the potential rule to limit consumption to citizens and long-term residents appears specifically designed to prevent drug tourism, which has been a problem in the Netherlands.

In Amsterdam foreigners continue to frequent coffee shops, but the Netherlands’ southern provinces bordering Belgium and Germany have for two years banned foreigners from coffee shops that sell marijuana, in attempt to stem drug tourism. In border cities such as Maastricht, however, dealers on street corners routinely solicit tourists to buy the drug.

Drug tourism is a scenario Uruguay may be seeking to avoid, in part to placate neighboring countries opposed to the legislation. Uruguay’s move to legalize marijuana has been sharply criticized by Paraguay on the grounds that it will spur marijuana production there, while fears have been raised the move could give further rise to organized crime in the region.

Lawmakers’ delay in revealing how they plan to oversee Uruguay’s legal marijuana market is a sign of the many sticking points and hurdles ahead if its experiment with legalization is to prove a success. 

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