Uruguay Slowly Rolling Out its Marijuana Law
On August 28, the day after the Uruguayan government began receiving the first applications to legally grow up to six cannabis plants per household, officials provided an important update on the status of marijuana regulation in the country. While the law is slowly coming into effect, it looks almost certain that it won’t be in full swing until sometime in early 2015.
Despite initial reports that just 10 prospective home-growers had registered with the designated post offices around the country -- which were based on a statement released only three hours after the registry’s launch -- this number has grown since then.
As Uruguayan AP correspondent Leonardo Haberkorn reports, the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) announced on August 28 that after two days, a total of 54 had signed up. Of these, 21 were based in the capital city of Montevideo, and 33 live throughout the country’s interior. The IRCCA has said it will review all applications and issue the first legal home-cultivation licenses within a period of 30 days.
The creation of the home-growers’ registry comes after the launch of the first “marijuana membership clubs,” which under the law can have a maximum of 45 members and grow up to 99 plants. While the clubs have not yet been licensed to grow by the IRCCA, at least four have taken the first step of registering as civil associations with the Ministry of Culture.
Home-growing and the membership clubs are two of the three methods of accessing the drug legally under Uruguay’s new law. The third involves purchasing commercially-produced cannabis, which is making progress as well. In July, the government began a bidding process for those interested in serving as the two to five commercial growers that officials believe are necessary to satisfy domestic demand for cannabis.
While the AP reports that an administration official told reporters “more than 20 and less than 25” companies had applied to supply the drug to Uruguayan pharmacies, El Pais has more precise details on the bidding process. On August 28, the IRCCA held a gathering of some 40 representatives of the bidders, and the Montevideo-based paper obtained a head count of sorts, even speaking with some of the prospective foreign and local investors.
The institute reportedly received proposals from 22 companies, of which 8 are Uruguayan, 10 are foreign (including U.S. and Canadian firms) and 4 are of mixed nationality. In two weeks’ time this number will be whittled down to 20, from which a total of five companies will obtain cultivation licenses.
According to El Pais, the IRCCA won’t complete the selection process for at least a month and a half. This means cultivation won’t begin until around November, at the earliest. Taking into account time needed for growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping the product to sales points, it is then safe to assume that President Jose Mujica is correct in estimating that the drug won’t be available in pharmacies before next year.
Ultimately it seems officials are in no rush, and are more concerned with working out the kinks of marijuana regulation than starting as fast as possible. As IRCCA head Augusto Vitale told El Pais, “This is a unique model in the world. This type of license is unprecedented.” Nevertheless, Vitale claimed that the first experiment with commercial cultivation will follow three main guidelines. According to him: “We know there will be continuous production [via greenhouses]. We know that there must be between one and two tons produced. And we know that setting the price shall be a crucial variable, and that it will compete with the illegal market.”