Three years after Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana, plans for the controlled production and sale of the drug have stalled. One of the main problems is the reluctance of pharmacies to sell the narcotic, with many citing security concerns.
So far, only around 50 of the South American country’s 1,200 pharmacies have signed up for the legislation passed under the previous president, José Mujica, with many saying they are scared of robberies and are concerned about increasing costs and paperwork, as well as fears of disclosing their activities to other customers who do not agree with legal marijuana.
Other reluctant pharmacists have said that they have not had enough explanations about the drug in terms of its regulation, and do not want to sell it as it would be medically unprofessional.
Under Uruguay’s new drug laws, users would register with the authorities and then be allowed to purchase a maximum of 10 grams a week at around $1 a gram. The low price, aimed at competing with the black market, makes it difficult for growers to turn a profit. That said, two companies out of the 22 authorized to grow marijuana say they are ready to begin supplying.
One of the main aims of the law was to combat consumption of illegal marijuana
But they also warn that the continued delays are putting their initial investment at risk.
Furthermore, there have been concerns that many buyers will still go to the black market, in order to find strains and higher-strength versions of the plant that are not sold over the counter.
The reluctance of pharmacies to sell marijuana is a blow to Uruguayan reformers, whose key political challenge is to prove that their model can work, particularly amid a lack of domestic public support and external criticism from various international bodies that view legalization as a dangerous step away from international drug conventions. Neighboring Brazil and Argentina also have concerns that legal Uruguayan marijuana will be easily transported across their borders.
So what’s gone wrong? The biggest factor, say analysts, has been the government’s excessive caution, which has made it impossible for the law to be implemented as intended.
Brazil and Argentina are concerned Uruguayan marijuana will be smuggled there
That’s due in part to a change in the government’s leadership. Mujica was known for being more liberal, and less risk-tolerant, than his successor, Tabaré Vázquez, who was elected in October 2014 and has taken a more cautious approach, keen to avoid conflict with the international community.
Meanwhile, impatient at the delays to make marijuana available through pharmacies, large numbers of people have registered to grow their own weed: there are some 5,466 growers currently registered with the authorities, along with 27 cannabis clubs.
One of the main aims of the law was to combat consumption of illegal marijuana, along with cocaine and coca paste, but the failure to implement the legislation has made it impossible to gauge just how many people have turned away from the black market.
English version by Nick Lyne.