Uruguay, the first country in the world to fully legalise cannabis, now also permits the growth of commercial cannabis. Last week, the government permitted two private companies to grow cannabis. It was also announced that cannabis will be for sale in pharmacies in about eight months' time. Read more here.
Uruguay, the first country in the world to fully legalise cannabis, has finally taken the last step: growing commercial cannabis is permitted. Last week, the government permitted two private companies to grow cannabis. It was also announced that cannabis will be for sale in pharmacies in about eight months’ time.
Following the appointment of the new president, Tabaré Vázquez, in autumn 2014, it seemed as though Uruguay had reached an impasse with regard to the regulation of cannabis. After the previous president, José Alberto Mujica, had surprised the world by announcing that Uruguay would legalise the entire cannabis chain, the fear became palpable. Mujica, who considers the war against drugs to be a fiasco, started an ‘experiment’ to conquer part of the illegal drugs market.
On his initiative, the Uruguayan parliament approved a law on 10 December 2013 providing for the regulation of cannabis. It entered into force on 6 May 2014. Under this law, the government is responsible for supervising the production of cannabis for commercial purposes, and distribution is the task of private companies. This decision enables the commercialisation of cannabis, as well as its recreational, medicinal and industrial use.
Vázquez’ government suspended the sale of cannabis for an indefinite period in order to be able to successfully implement the draft law. Some people interpreted this to mean that the new president, Mujica’s fellow party member, was not an advocate of legalisation.Well, he isn’t.
Nonetheless, the next step has been taken on the road to tackling the black market and improving public health. Uruguay has finally taken the last step in the cannabis revolution: the growth of cannabis for commercial purposes can begin!
The government has given two companies permission to grow commercial cannabis
On 1 October 2015, the government of this South American country announced that two companies have been granted permission to grow cannabis for commercial purposes. It was also announced that in the course of next year, cannabis would be made available in pharmacies, probably as of May 2016 – almost two years after Uruguay approved the ground-breaking law to put the cannabis market under government supervision.
Juan Andrés Roballo, deputy secretary of the president and chair of the National Drugs Council, put it as follows: “The most important aim of the law is to regulate cannabis use, in order to implement a policy that guarantees health and limits damage“. The Uruguayan government is also working on a new campaign to inform citizens about “the consequences of the use” of cannabis, alongside the same campaign for the use of tobacco.
The aim of the campaign is “to limit the damage, to prevent and tackle excessive and problematic use, to make the various parties in society aware of the consequences of cannabis use, and to participate in the fight against the illegal drugs trade and organised crime”, according to Roballo.
It was Roballo who mentioned during the press conference that 22 companies had applied to grow cannabis for sale in pharmacies. Two were chosen: Simbiosys and Iccorp. Both have Uruguayan and foreign investors and have been granted the licences needed to produce, distribute and market cannabis in Uruguay.
The companies were selected by the IRCCA, an institute that supervises regulation, and will produce two tons of cannabis per year. They have to satisfy a whole host of conditions, for example that the government must buy all the cannabis produced and supply it to these companies, and the plants grown must all be female and unfertilised. The crops will be planted in the south-western province of San José, near Montevideo. The land is owned by the home office, which is also responsible for the security. The investment for each company is estimated to be $600,000 to $800,000.
The cannabis grown will cost €1 per gram in the pharmacy
In a few months, Uruguay will be a country in which cannabis is a legal commercial product. Furthermore, consumers will be able to purchase cannabis in pharmacies for a price that the authorities consider to be competitive with the illegal market.
“Starting now, it will take at least eight months before the product is available for sale. For that reason, the state has started informational campaigns about the risks of the use of cannabis for health purposes”, according to Juan Andrés Roballo, chairman of the National Drugs Council.
Uruguayan citizens who are registered with the IRCCA can purchase up to 40 grams of cannabis per month and 10 grams of cannabis per week at approximately 34.50 Uruguayan peso per gram, which is slightly more than €1 or $1. The consumer can also choose from cannabis grown by the government of a range of THC concentrations (between 5% and 14%).
Roballo announced that the government will work with the union of pharmacies to guarantee that the pharmacies can offer the product once the production process has been completed. The IRCCA has provided the union with a concept of the conditions the pharmacies must meet in order to sell cannabis. That document states that the pharmacy’s profit will be 30% of the product price, that they must purchase the product every 15 days from the suppliers and that they are permitted to stock a maximum of two kilos of cannabis. Many pharmacies are interested in selling legal cannabis.
Uruguay has taken the final step
According to the strict rules of the law, cannabis may solely be obtained by one of the following means.
- Home cultivation; following registration as a home-grower, you can grow up to six cannabis plants.
- Following registration with an official cannabis club that functions as a sort of cooperation for shared growth by a group of a maximum of 45 members.
- Following registration with one of the participating pharmacies, from where you can purchase 40g cannabis per month.
In Uruguay home growth and cannabis clubs have been permitted for just over a year now. The first permits for home growers were granted in August 2014 and the first cannabis club was registered in October 2014.
Today there are 2,500 recognised home growers in Uruguay and 18 registered cannabis clubs. The home growers and cannabis club growers combined therefore bring the total to 3,000 legal users. And in a few months’ time, registered users will finally be able to turn to pharmacies for cannabis.
By launching commercial cannabis cultivation, Uruguay has finally taken the last step towards fully regulating cannabis. As such, it is the very first country to control and regulate such a complex market. It goes without saying that the manner in which cannabis has been handled the last 100 years missed its mark. Uruguay is challenging the competition when it comes to price, as well as the quality of the product, to the benefit of the health and pockets of Uruguayan users.