Uruguay Marijuana Laws Draw Spotlight As UN Convenes Global Drug Summit

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As U.N. Convenes Global Drug Summit, Uruguay Charts Its Own Course With World’s First State-Sanctioned Recreational Marijuana Sales

Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to allow state-commissioned companies to sell recreational marijuana through the country’s network of pharmacies.

From July, adults in the South American nation, which effectively legalized marijuana in December 2013, will be able to purchase up to 40 grams a month for about US$1 a gram. All that will be required is for buyers to join a government registry and provide a thumbprint to prove their identity.

Under existing laws, anyone over the age of 18 is allowed to grow cannabis at home or join a club to grow it for them. The government is hoping, however, that residents will opt to purchase their pot from pharmacies.

The CEO of one of the two companies authorized to grow marijuana, 29-year-old Uruguayan native Guillermo Delmonte, tells The Guardian that his company—the International Cannabis Corp—has 3,000 plants currently growing under constant police guard in a facility about an hour north of the capital of Montevideo. They aim to add at least 1,000 more in coming weeks as well as install a state-of-the-art Spanish greenhouse to help boost production.

Delmonte, who says he never smokes the stuff himself, sees the business as a chance to be part of history. “South America’s changing, just like the USA,” Delmonte told The Guardian. “Colombia is having a license for medical cannabis. Chile is also growing it. All because of Uruguay.”

The drug was legalized by the country’s former president, José Mujica, who saw the move as a chance to take on the cartels bringing marijuana in illegally from neighboring Paraguay.

The efforts in Uruguay are underway just as the United Nations convenes an international summit in New York aimed at tackling the effectiveness and impact of the so-called “war on drugs.” The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, from April 19–21, marks the first time the U.N. has held a special session on drug policy since 1998.

A wide swath of non-governmental organizations and civic leaders are calling on member nations to make bold changes along the lines of those made in Uruguay, Portugal (which has decriminalized all illicit drugs), and several U.S. states where marijuana is now legal for either recreational or medicinal purposes.

A letter circulating ahead of the summit—signed by more than 1,000 world leaders, including 27 members of the House of Representatives and six U.S. senators—called the global war on drugs “disastrous” and said “humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s.”

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