Uruguay Cannabis Sales to Begin by Early 2016: Drugs Czar

Updates out of Uruguay suggest the long-awaited sale of recreational marijuana will now begin in 2016, a little over two years after the groundbreaking legislation was passed.

Speaking before an audience in Buenos Aires last month, Milton Romani, the secretary general of Uruguay's National Drugs Board (JND), stated that unfounded concerns President Tabare Vazquez would veto legislation legalizing cannabis were simply not true, and that the model for cultivating and dispensing marijuana for recreational use should come into force if not by Christmas 2015, then soon after, reported Cronica.

Earlier this year, it was believed that retail sales could begin in the summer, with reports indicating that the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) had already chosen the five companies to grow cannabis on state-owned land. However, according to El Espectador, as of July the process of selecting the companies was still ongoing along with negotiations with pharmacies where cannabis will be sold.

Uruguay has been cautious in implementing its model of regulation in an effort to ensure that there are as few problems as possible when sales eventually begin. Former President Jose Mujica stated that he does not believe in rolling out a system that is as lax as some US states whereby users can get above the regulated amounts simply by going to several pharmacies. Romani echoed the implied concern, saying, “going wrong with regulation will be seen by the entire international community.”

Overcoming opposition from pharmacies in the country has also proved to be a key issue to overcome.

A 2014 report titled “Marijuana: The Haze that Threatens to Cloud Perceptions of Pharmacy,” outlines some of the main reasons the Association of Chemistry and Pharmacists in Uruguay oppose regulating cannabis. For one, it believed that community pharmacies should ethically only provide services and goods that improve health -- not that are used solely for recreation. It would be accepting then of community pharmacies selling medical marijuana only and not marijuana for non-medical use.

It also suggests that the policy puts pharmacies at increased risk of violence from members in the illegal drug market seeking to get back their share of sales -- an extremely speculative claim -- and states that by accepting this law, it will be accepting to sell other narcotics when they become legal since this seems to be the new trend.

El Espectador reported last month that the IRCCA had sent a list of conditions to the Center of Pharmacies regarding the commercialization of cannabis, suggesting that the process is indeed advancing.

While the commercial sale of cannabis has been slow to progress, other components of Uruguay's marijuana legislation have come into force. People are legally allowed to grow cannabis in their homes and possess up to six flowering female plants providing they are officially registered, while in October last year the IRCCA announced that it would begin registering cannabis growers’ clubs which are entitled to have up to 45 members and to grow a maximum of 99 plants each year.