In Uruguay, marijuana can be legally bought in pharmacies. The government wants to suppress illegal trade and the influence of the mafia by legalizing drugs. Problem: Demand is too high.
Anne Herrberg, ARD Studio Buenos Aires
Sergio Rédin still remembers the day his small family pharmacy started selling marijuana. “It simply came to our notice then. People moved in lines all over the block and pushed, my phone kept ringing. We were completely amazed. “
Rédins Apotheke Antártida is located in the center of Montevideo. In addition to medicines and hygiene products, hemp pipes, hemp mills, cigarette papers and small packages of marijuana flowers weighing exactly five grams are sold there. Best quality, all properly printed with state seal.
Legalization against drug trafficking
Welcome to Uruguay, the only country in the world that has not only fully legalized cannabis, but also regulates its cultivation and sale. “An experiment that is likely to scare backslings,” said Uruguayan left-wing president Pepe Mujica, whose government passed the law in 2013.
Calculation: Drug gangs should be deprived of their business base, at least in the cannabis trade. Uruguay pioneered a region where the ban led to more violence and more mafia power. In fact, according to a report by the State Monitoring Center for Drugs, the allegedly illegal cannabis trade fell by a fifth between 2014 and 2018.
That means about $ 22 million less went to the treasury of organized crime. Smoking weeds in Uruguay is as common today as beer after work, but it is a much more strictly regulated pleasure. If you want, you can grow your own weeds or join one of 157 cannabis clubs that garden together. A maximum of 45 members are allowed to grow 99 plants there.
From 2017, it is also possible to legally buy marijuana in a pharmacy. The buyer must officially register at the post office with an ID, digital fingerprint and confirmation of stay. The upper limit is 40 grams per person per month. In addition, only anyone living in Uruguay can buy marijuana. The small country between Brazil and Argentina did not want to become a destination for cannabis tourism, which the Netherlands, for example, is facing.
The state does not supply enough cannabis
In Rédin, about four kilos of flowers go around the counter every month. Now allocates appointments for each buyer in the online calendar. Overall, it’s a “very good complementary business” for small pharmacists, says Rédin, and the only problem is, “We have a shortage of goods.”
Because the state cannot keep up with production. Instead of the planned ten, only two approved companies produce about four tons of cannabis a year – for more than 40,000 registered stoners. There are only 14 pharmacies registered in the whole country. Most of them are in or near Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
There are more pharmacies on the waiting list, but the existing ones have more inquiries than stocks. Last autumn, the state responded by granting three other companies cannabis cultivation licenses. However, the first harvest is not expected until April next year.
“It’s not enough back and forth,” says Majo Miles, president of the Union of Cannabis Clubs in Uruguay. “That’s how people look for their grass elsewhere.” A black market that mainly sells pressed marijuana from Paraguay. it still exists, but: “It’s a disgusting thing, full of twigs, leaves and chemicals, it will blow your head off,” says Majo Miles, and that’s why the “Mercado Gris”, a gray area, was created. “Even cultivated flowers are sold illegally. “
Gray market for green fabric
The gray market is booming. Uruguayan Interior Minister Jorge Larrañaga recently accused registered cannabis clubs of diverting part of their crops and even smuggling them into Brazil. “This is complete nonsense, there is probably nothing and no one in a country that is as tightly controlled as we clubs,” Miles defended.
However, it also points to a problem. Cannabis clubs are always robbed. In the field of her own club CLUC, which is hiding in the rural area of Montevideo, there was a raid during the harvest season in April. The members therefore decided to move the cannabis cultivation to a house with artificial light. Instead, they created an organic garden in the field.