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Uruguay's Year In Marijuana: 3 Successes

Uruguay's Year In Marijuana: 3 Successes

Posted by Juan Gavasa on January 07, 2015

It's been just over a year since Uruguay's President Jose Mujica signed a law creating the world's first nationalized market for the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana.

The implementation of this historic law was part of a landmark year for cannabis. Recreational pot stores opened in Colorado and Washington State, while three other US states voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legislation. And back in South America, a middle-age housewife in Chile received possibly the region's first legal medical marijuana prescription.

But along with the successes of Uruguay's weed experiment are some notable hold-ups.

For starters, a year into the new paradigm, it's still impossible to buy marijuana legally here. To date, the government still hasn't chosen the companies that will grow its cannabis. A new president, taking office in March, who formerly has been skeptical of marijuana use will inherit much of the hard work of implementing the law.

We've broken Uruguay's year in weed into three notable successes and three remaining questions about how the pot experiment will continue to evolve in the coming months.

SUCCESS 1: Growing and trading in pot is now legal

Smoking pot has actually been legal in Uruguay for decades. But until last year it was illegal to grow or buy it here, creating a weird legal situation where consumption was permitted but you couldn't legally purchase anything to consume.

That all changed in 2014. Under Uruguay's new law, cannabis users here can either grow weed at home or can join a cannabis "club," paying fees to be part of a collective that grows and harvests pot. As a result, legal cannabis cultivation is thriving here.

In December, Julio Calzada, the head of the National Drug Commission (whom GlobalPostinterviewed back in September) announced that the government had registered 1,200 cannabis growers, and about 500 clubs, progress he said that was "encouraging."

Uruguay even held its first ever cannabis exposition last month, an event that primarily catered to budding growers and that reportedly attracted some 6,000 attendees.

SUCCESS 2: Uruguay has shaken up the regional debate on weed

As we outlined when Uruguay first passed its landmark law in 2013, the main point of the new policy was to attempt to begin to shift the paradigm on drug enforcement away from the US-led war on drugs that leaders in Uruguay, particularly Mujica, saw as a dismal failure.

Marijuana legalization was aimed at undercutting drug cartels and therefore reducing crime. Mujica has described the law as an "experiment" for the rest of the world.

And there are signals that other countries, especially in the region, are taking note.

Eight Latin American countries are either very or somewhat likely to loosen their drug policies in the near future, according to analysis by nonprofit research and reporting group InSight Crime. The list includes Argentina, which is mulling legalization, and Brazil, which is debating the issue.

SUCCESS 3: The price of illegal pot is coming down

As GlobalPost reported back in May, the price of street marijuana here has been in decline since the new law passed. That's largely because local growers have stepped in to meet demand — albeit sometimes illegally — and because pot users can now grow their own weed with impunity.

As such, Uruguay is meeting one of its primary goals: hitting drug cartels where it hurts. This mirrors the impacts of drug legalization elsewhere, notably the United States.

Texas Public Radio reported in December that legal weed in the US appeared to be undercutting marijuana growers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa that supply the US black market. Here's an extract:

"Two years ago, the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness, in a study titled 'If Our Neighbors Legalize,' predicted the drug cartels would see their cannabis profits plummet 22 to 30 percent if the United States continued to decriminalize marijuana.

At one time, virtually all the weed smoked in the States, from Acapulco Gold to Colombian Red, came from south of the border.Not anymore.

'We're still seeing marijuana. But it's almost all the homegrown stuff here from the States and from Canada. It's just not the compressed marijuana from Mexico that we see,' says Lt. David Socha, of the Austin Police Department narcotics section."

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