Washington, DC—On July 19, Uruguay will officially commence legal sales of non-medical cannabis, becoming the first country in the world to implement nationally regulated production and sales of non-medical cannabis. This final step in the implementation of Uruguay’s unprecedented cannabis policy reform, which was signed into law in December 2013, places the country at the forefront of global cannabis policy innovation.
As a research and advocacy organization advancing human rights and social justice in the Americas, WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America) has been following Uruguay’s historic law since its inception. In a new commentary, WOLA Research Associate Geoff Ramsey and Senior Associate for Drug Policy John Walsh assess the details of the law’s implementation, as well as the importance of monitoring its impact in the months and years ahead.
“The launch of legal cannabis sales is an historic step forward for Uruguay, and marks a new day in the worldwide debate on cannabis policy. In the face of a global drug treaty regime that has banned non-medical cannabis for more than 50 years, Uruguay’s bold innovation rejects the failed attempt at prohibition in favor of comprehensive regulation of the domestic market. It’s never easy to go first, but Uruguay is showing it can be done,” said John Walsh.
With the initiation of cannabis sales for non-medical use, Uruguay is putting in place the final element of its 2013 law, as authorities have already licensed 63 cannabis-growing clubs and over 6,900 home growers throughout the country. The 2013 law also regulates medical cannabis, but the government has prioritized implementation of legal access for non-medical use. According to the Institute for the Regulation of Cannabis (IRCCA), the regulatory agency created by the law, to date 4,959 adult residents of Uruguay have signed up to begin purchasing cannabis in participating pharmacies, which were selected as sales points because of their experience in handling controlled substances.
In keeping with the government’s deliberate, measured approach to implementing the law, the rollout of sales will be limited at first. The IRCCA has announced that it will initially make two varieties of cannabis available to the public in 16 pharmacies around the country, in five-gram packages sold at roughly US$1.20 per gram. Revisions such as making alternative varieties available, increasing the number of participating pharmacies, and adjusting the price according to market indicators will all be evaluated moving forward.
“Uruguay’s government knows that this new phase of their law will come under close scrutiny at home and abroad, and are deliberately taking a careful and incremental approach to implementing sales. The nearly five thousand Uruguayans who have already signed up to purchase cannabis are placing their faith in the government’s implementation efforts, and in authorities’ flexibility to revise the system in the face of challenges,” said Geoff Ramsey.
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez has committed his government to monitoring the impact of establishing a regulated cannabis market. The government’s own efforts are being complemented by work at leading academic institutions like the University of the Republic (Universidad de la República) and the Catholic University of Uruguay (Universidad Católica del Uruguay), where scholars are conducting research on cannabis trends and policy, as WOLA has documented.
“Now that all three sources of legal access to non-medical cannabis will be up and running in Uruguay—home grows, clubs, and pharmacy sales—a commitment to monitoring and evaluation becomes even more vital. Rigorous evaluation of how the law is playing out—paired with regulatory authorities’ ability to make any needed revisions—will be the key to the successful implementation of this historic law,” said John Walsh.
Communications Officer, WOLA
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