This week Uruguay will officially begin legal sales of marijuana for those 18 and older, over three and a half years after the law legalizing the plant was initially approved by lawmakers.
The legalization of marijuana was first proposed by former-President José Mujica in 2012 as part of a comprehensive package of proposals aimed at improving public safety. Uruguay’s parliament gave final approval to the measure in December 2013, making Uruguay the first country in the world to fully legalize cannabis for retail distribution. This week – over 3.5 years later – legal sales will finally begin.
“This is a historic moment,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “In recent years, Latin American leaders have decried the staggering human, environmental and financial costs of the War on Drugs in their region. Uruguay is boldly demonstrating that concrete alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies are possible.”
According to Hetzer, the Uruguayan model allows four forms of access to marijuana: medical marijuana through the Ministry of Public Health; domestic cultivation of up to six plants per household; membership clubs where up to 45 members can collectively produce up to 99 plants; and licensed sale in pharmacies to adult residents. Regulation will be overseen by the government’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA). Sales to minors, driving under the influence of marijuana, and all forms of advertising are prohibited.
“Uruguay’s model will look quite different from the eight U.S. states that have legalized marijuana,” Hetzer continued. “There is no one-size-fits-all marijuana legalization system. It’s important for each jurisdiction to tailor marijuana regulation to their local needs and contexts, providing the world with different models to learn from.”