Legal adult marijuana sales began in Uruguay on Wednesday, making it the first country in the world to establish a regulated market for the product. This follows previous phases of legalization permitting growers’ clubs and home cultivation.
Official sales have been long awaited following a legalization proposal put forward by former President José Mujica in 2012. This was given final approval by Parliament in December 2013 — legally regulating the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana — but has taken longer than expected to implement following a presidential election in 2015 and delays in funding for the regulatory authority.
Under the Uruguay model, the market is very much state-led. Two private firms — Symbiosis and the International Cannabis Corp. — have licenses to grow, package, and distribute marijuana, but production is capped to 400 tons annually (estimated to be around 15% of current consumption). These firms are not allowed to market the product, and the government determines the genetic makeup and THC content.
Legal sales take place in pharmacies in five-gram packages sold for 187 Uruguayan pesos ($6.50), with two products on offer: ‘Alfa 1’ and ‘Beta 1’. Only citizens and legal permanent residents aged 18 and older are allowed to purchase marijuana, and they must register with the government to do so. So far, almost 5,000 individuals have done so.
The introduction of this regulated market has been closely monitored and implemented, with the government taking measures to avoid creating a hub for marijuana tourism. All forms of advertising have been banned, and the production of infused edibles is prohibited. Additionally, consumers are limited to purchasing 40 grams a month — an amount monitored by fingerprint scans at every sale.