Kaitlin Yent – Uruguay is poised to become the first country in the world to have a state-run marijuana industry after the lower house passed a landmark legalization bill.
The idea is to offer the public such low prices on the green stuff, that the government begins to edge out the black market’s grip on the business.
The entire process will be state-operated, from growing to distribution and sales. The fixed price on the table is US$2.50 per gram of completely legal and regulated marijuana, available to adult customers in Uruguay. The cost on the black market can go as high as US$5 a gram in some regions of the country, but Uruguay drug czar, Julio Calzada, says the typical going rate is closer to US$2.50, ensuring that the price is competitive and that there is no incentive for illegal resale.
The unprecedented bill is backed by forward thinking President José Mujica, who has been a longtime supporter of radical drug reforms. The bill is still before the Senate, but is expected to pass the vote uneventfully and be signed in by Mujica.
The legalization debate is the same old thing we’ve all heard for years, with dissidents decrying the health concerns and supporters applauding the new tactic in fighting the war on drugs. After the success of the Netherlands and Portugal in decriminalization, it seems like this new tactic might be worth a shot. However, Uruguay’s law is groundbreaking and distinct, as it is the first attempt at government control of the industry. Although businesses and individuals can all grow a specified amount of marijuana, they must sell it to state-run pharmacies that control the distribution. Customers will have to register and will be limited to 1.4 ounces of “mary jane” a month.
Not left out of the bill are strict standards and regulations for growth and cultivation that will prevent the practices used by gangs and drug cartels to taint the purity of the crop. Park MacDouglald with Foreign Policy describes, “The legal cannabis…will be the narcotic equivalent of artisanal goat cheese – fresh and local.”
The number of local users is said to be around 120,000 and it is hoped that these tens of thousands of potential customers will opt for the regulated weed over the black market stock. The government is counting on price and quality control to lure these consumers to their pharmacies.
Uruguay may be the first to propose a nationalization bill, but it’s certainly not the first to allow its population so spark up, freely. The benefits of an occasional smoke session are not lost on Kim Jong Un, for example, where, in North Korea, marijuana is not classified as a drug and is used commonly by laborers and soldiers as a relaxation technique. Many European and South American countries have already decriminalized usage and continue to loosen their laws. Portugal completely eliminated punishment for drug users over a decade ago and their pattern of shifting resources from enforcement to prevention and rehabilitation has been cited all over the world as a positive cycle with legalization being the catalyst.
No word yet on if the Uruguay bill will be limited to citizens and residents, or if the market will be opened to tourists, but considering Amsterdam’s success, it could be a potential booming new industry… And Uruguay could just be the first in a string of countries to bend to marijuana legalization, Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molina has spoken out in praise of Washington and Colorado states’ legalization policies. Could the rest of Latin America be soon to follow?…