Back in December of last year, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana, but no one would have thought the country would offer it so inexpensively and abundantly to citizens. Now that the government is unveiling the framework for their new marijuana market, jaws are dropping across the globe.
While Colorado’s pot prices require a serious weighing of benefits and risks—the legal form sold at dispensaries being more expensive than black market marijuana—Uruguay’s model may actually squash the black market using simple business know-how, by undercutting prices.
Legal marijuana in Uruguay will cost about 20% of the current market price for high-quality cannabis. Citizens will be able to purchase high-grade marijuana for between $0.85 and $1 per gram.
Also, the cannabis being purchased in government-sanctioned dispensaries may be safer than what’s found from a local marijuana-dealer, whose product usually comes from Paraguay.
“You can’t compare a flower that is quality-controlled by the Public Health Ministry … with Paraguayan (stuff) which is absolutely harmful because it has external substances,” said the Cannabis Liberation Movement’s Bruno Calleros.
Citizens will be allowed to purchase up to 10 grams each week—that’s enough for a considerable marijuana habit of around 20 joints. Also, they will be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants (or the equivalent of 17 ounces) for their own personal use. Uruguayans will also be allowed to form smoking clubs, consisting of 15 to 45 members able to grow up to 99 plants a year collectively.
If U.S. officials think Colorado is stepping out on a limb, Uruguay will blow their mind.
“We’re looking to hurt drug trafficking by snatching part of its market,” said President Jose Mujica, stressing the laws are not designed to encourage habits where there were none before. “No addiction is good … The only one I recommend to young people is love.”
While Uruguay is a relatively low-crime country, one-third of its prisoners are serving time for drug offenses. For South America in particular, where U.S.-led Drug War effects are felt despite the distance, the results of the Uruguay experiment could have long-term and far-reaching effects. Leaders are watching closely.
While U.S. leaders may be a long way off from all-out legalization, and especially to the extent that Uruguay is doing it, the country’s efforts should be applauded. To say their approach is brave would be a dramatic understatement, as their approach throws marijuana policies of the past several decades completely on their head and stands to potentially change the way the world views cannabis and the potential opportunities the plant can create.