In July of this year, the small nation of Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the sale of marijuana in all its territory.
Marijuana is sold in pharmacies, but the low price and obstacles put by the banks mean that few have decided to sell it.
A long queue of people waits every evening at the doors of a small neighborhood pharmacy in Montevideo. So little that they can only enter one by one. The process is slow, but the clientele, mainly young, does not seem to mind. They wait their turn standing or sitting, talking in groups of two or three, in the breeze of a warm spring afternoon.
At the entrance, a pharmacist asks each of them to put their fingerprint on a scanner. The electronic device is connected to a government database that will authorize, or not, your weekly dose of 10 grams of legal marijuana. The product is of high quality, controlled by the State and guarantees an excellent high.
“In the city, 25 grams of maryjane would cost you 3,000 pesos, that is, around 100 dollars [about 85 euros] for something that likely conveys a high measure of pesticides, seeds, and stems,” says Luciano, a youthful purchaser who It’s your turn now. “But here the same amount costs you only 30 dollars [about 25 euros], with a maximum quality guarantee, and in five-pack thermosealed packages.”
In July of this year, the small nation of Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the sale of marijuana throughout its territory.
“The most important thing has been the paradigm shift,” says Gastón Rodríguez Lepera, an investor in Symbiosis, one of the two privately owned businesses that produce marijuana for the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, of the Uruguayan government. “Uruguay decided at the end without much international support, they said it would not work, so look, it’s worked.”
With a populace of just 3.4 million, in a small territory between its two neighboring giants, Brazil and Argentina (with people of 208 and 43 million respectively), Uruguay has long been at the forefront of progressive politics not only in South America but globally.
A divorce law that allows women to separate from their husbands by merely asking for permission in a courthouse was approved as early as 1913. Abortion was legalized in 2012, with Uruguay being the only Latin American country to do so along with Cuba.
Uruguay’s progressive temperament is due in part to a clear separation between Church and State in a region where the Catholic Church remains dominant. The Christmas calendar does not appear as such on the official holiday calendar. The majority of Uruguayans refer to that day with the denomination chosen by the government: family day. Easter week is called tourism week.
The decision to venture into the legal marijuana market has not come unhindered. Mainly by the majority of pharmacists, who opposed resistance to acting as marijuana providers for recreational use (medical marijuana remains illegal in Uruguay).
Only 12 of the 1,100 pharmacies in the country have registered to supply marijuana to the 17,391 registered consumers in the government system, which explains the long queue in the small pharmacy of Montevideo.
The low price of the product and the low-profit margins explain the reluctance of pharmacies. “But the main problem is that the banks have threatened to close the accounts of the pharmacies that sell marijuana in Montevideo,” says one of the pharmacists who sell marijuana in Montevideo in any case, does not have any desire to uncover his name for fear of bank intervention.
Although the sale of marijuana has been legalized in several states of the United States, it is still illegal at the federal level, causing most banks do not want to keep accounts related to the sale of marijuana anywhere in the world. Even now that sales have been fully legalized in Uruguay, the fear of getting into trouble with US federal authorities is real.
“The problem with the banks was an unexpected complication,” says Eduardo Blasina, president of the cannabis museum in Montevideo, located in an old house in the artistic Palermo district of the Uruguayan capital. “But these potholes will end up smoothing out.”