Cannabis in Uruguay

Uruguay has received attention lately as having quite a different approach to cannabis policy than many other countries. Here's a quick overview of their cannabis policy.

cannabis is uruguay

A few months ago, we posted a blog about drug policy in Sweden, which many consider quite a conservative and even hard-line approach to drug use. You can read our blog about Sweden here.

The blog started some interesting conversations and spurred us on to start looking at the different policies from around the world. Despite global fixation on only a few, many countries actually manage drug use quite differently – whether due to the policy itself, or how it is enforced.

What’s happening in Uruguay?

In contrast to Sweden, Uruguay appears to have taken a more liberal approach to drug policy. Drug possession and consumption for personal use were decriminalised in the 1970s, and in 2012 plans to legalise the sale of cannabis were announced by then President José Mujica, making headlines all around the world.

Under the new law, citizens would be able grow up to six cannabis plants at home and join ‘grow clubs’ if they wished to cultivate more. It was proposed all sales would go through the government, which would also determine prices through a network of dispensaries, typically the existing pharmacies.

The main justification for the change was that legalisation would reduce the population’s exposure to ‘harder’ drugs and fix problems with corruption in the current legal system. At the same time, reforms aimed to provide greater access to medicinal cannabis (the form of which was not made clear).

Supporters believed the policy had the potential to reduce organised crime and reduce use of more dangerous substances, such as crack cocaine or the increasingly prevalent ‘prensado paraguayo’, which is a more potent preparation and more likely to contain a range of be contaminants.

Many Uruguayans have remained highly sceptical of the proposed system, believing the parameters have been left far too vague and the system too expensive to administer.  As a result, the people were reluctant to register, the pharmacies unwilling to dispense, and cannabis users continued to trade in the black market. The new policy also received  a mixed reception from the international community, with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime stating that Mujica’s plans would have negative implications for drug control in other countries in the world, whether ‘neighbours or not’.

In 2014, President Mujica announced the proposed new system would be postponed until the following year due to practical difficulties.

Tabaré Vázquez replaced Mujica as president of Uruguay in 2015, and almost immediately after elected, distanced his new government from Mujica’s cannabis policy. Five days into the new term, it was announced Mujica’s plans for legalisation would be postponed indefinitely.

What does this mean for Mujica’s plan? Is weed legal in Uruguay?

Essentially, Mujica’s proposed plan will not be going ahead anytime soon. Uruguayans are still largely sceptical of the change, with polls showing the majority of the population is against legalisation and government regulation of cannabis sales.

It’s important to remember no nation in the world has a perfect drug policy that everyone can agree on. Even if Sweden or Uruguay’s proposed systems were working flawlessly in their own backyards, that wouldn’t necessarily mean they would be suitable for different countries with different cultures, economies and political histories. In the meantime, it all makes for pretty compelling watching from afar.

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