Uruguay Cannabis Regulation: Slow but Steady

Since passing the cannabis regulation bill in the Uruguayan Senate in December 2013, the eyes of the world have been focused to see how the law will be implemented.  The Secretariat traveled to Uruguay in February to participate in the TNI/WOLA Informal Dialogue and other regional meetings.  While in the country, the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) hosted a day to introduce participants to the details of the law and the current implementation status.

Although the implementation appears to be going slowly, there have been various decrees issued over the last year to guide the IRCCA in their work. Since the government of Uruguay determined that they would first like to meet the non-medical cannabis demand, they have begun working on that, followed by industrial hemp and finally medical and research related cannabis.

The instructions for implementation (reglamentación in Spanish) of the law were released on May 6, 2014 (non-medical use of cannabis). The decree for the use of industrial hemp were released on December 16, 2014 and the decree regarding research and medical cannabis were released on February 4, 2015.

Users will eventually be able to access cannabis via three methods: 1. home cultivation of up to 6 flowering female plants, producing 480 grams annually (which includes registering with the IRCCA), 2. Cannabis clubs which can have between 15-45 members and up to 99 plants, based on the proportion of members (also registered as a civil association and with the IRCCA), and 3. buying through government-run pharmacies.  The first two means of access are already up and functioning, with an estimated 1,400 people registered as home-growers and over 600 people in 14 clubs participating in the cannabis clubs.  While the numbers above are a far cry from the estimated 150,000 occasional users (and about 30,000 more habitual users) in the country, the government has been careful to not rush any part of the process.

The pharmacy model has been the slowest thus far due to the more extensive permitting process.  The IRCCA is currently selecting 3-5 companies (several of them mixed companies which include Uruguayans and a foreign partner) who will be provided with 1 plot of land of 1.5 hectares in which to grow a maximum of 2 tons each.  The state owns the property and has the responsibility of providing security to the plots of land.  When we visited the property on February 11, they were putting up a high, chain-linked fence, with barbed wire at the top and security towers on every corner. The government will provide each company with a selection of seeds that they can cultivate and thus genetically track and THC levels are not expected to exceed 15%.  Discussions with users have shown that sativa is more popular than indica. The companies will be responsible for the infrastructure needed to grow the cannabis, as well as the transportation to the pharmacies for sale.  A fixed price between $1.20-1.50 USD per gram has been established.

Adult users will only be able to buy up to 40 grams of cannabis per month and non-residents will not be allowed to participate in the legal market. The decision of incoming President Tabare Vasquez to appoint Amb. Milton Romani as the Secretary of the National Drugs Council demonstrates a commitment to the initiative and a continuity towards implementing the policy. With the goals of separating markets, offering a high-quality product that undermines the illegal market and protecting users from interacting with organized criminal groups, Uruguay is paving the way towards a new kind of drug policy.  They might not be moving quickly, but each step towards change is secure.

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