Uruguay announces final regulations for new, legally regulated cannabis trade


Campaigners for the legal regulation of cannabis in Uruguay


On Friday, Uruguay released the full set of rules for its new legally regulated cannabis market. Transform staff acted as advisers to the Uruguayan government on their plans, and the country has ended up adopting a model of regulation very similar to the one we advocate in our recent guide to cannabis regulation.

Uruguay has opted for a strict system of regulation that effectively establishes a government monopoly on the cannabis trade. This contrasts with the more commercialised legal cannabis markets recently set up in the US states of Washington and Colorado, which Uruguay’s president criticised last week for being too lax.

The main aim of the controls being implemented in Uruguay is to reduce the size of the illicit drug market, by depriving organised crime groups of a key source of income. But as the Uruguayan government has recognised, a balance needs to be struck when it comes to the restrictiveness of its regulations. Too restrictive (with prices too high, limited availability etc.), and people are likely to carry on purchasing cannabis from the illicit market; not restrictive enough (with prices too low, over-availability etc.), and people are likely to consume more cannabis or start using the drug for the first time. Time will tell whether Uruguay has got the balance right, but given that it's taking a cautious, evidence-based approach, the signs are promising.

Below are the key elements of the Uruguay’s regulatory system. (Credit to Geoffrey Ramsey for translating much of the Spanish legislative text and news reports into English.)


Availability

  • Cannabis will be legally available via pharmacies in late November or early December this year
  • Anticipating that many people won’t wait till the end of the year, the Uruguayan government has established a 180-day amnesty period during which individuals can register their current plants in accordance with IRCCA guidelines and restriction
  • Sales will be restricted to Uruguayan residents aged 18 or ove
  • Users can purchase up to 40 grams of cannabis per month (limited further, to 10 grams per week
  • It will be legal to grow up to 6 cannabis plants per household, for personal consumption (up to a limit 480 grams per year
  • It will be legal to join a cannabis growing cooperative of between 15 and 40 members, in which residents can pool their personal plant allowance

Price and tax

  • The price of cannabis available through the pharmacies will be set at between 20 and 22 Uruguayan pesos (roughly 1 US dollar) per gram
  • The price takes into account a government tax, which will be used to fund the new regulatory body, the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), and a national campaign to educate the public about the consequences of cannabis use

Production

  • Between 2 and 6 private companies will be licensed to cultivate roughly 20 tons of cannabis annually. The companies will have to bid for the production contracts
  • Cannabis cultivation will take place on state land, overseen by both state security services (either the police or military) and security officers paid for by the licensed growers
  • Distribution, packaging and labeling will all be handled by the same entities licensed to cultivate. The product will be sent to pharmacies directly from the location of production, meaning that it cannot be stored anywhere else

Packaging

  • Commercial cannabis cannot be pressed, and must be placed in packaging that can preserve its quality for at least 6 months. However, the maximum quantity that can be held in these containers is 10 grams

Potency

  • The THC content of commercially-grown cannabis will be capped at 15%

Advertising

  • All forms of cannabis advertising, promotion or sponsorship are prohibited

Registry

  • The IRCCA will establish a registry that will be divided into five sections: commercial growers, participating pharmacies, purchasers, home-growers and cannabis clubs.
  • Individuals' inclusion in the registry will be kept anonymous and can only be divulged with their express consent
  • It has also been reported that users wishing to purchase cannabis from pharmacies would be able to do so merely by scanning their fingerprints, thereby keeping their identity secret from even the vendors themselves

Regulatory body

  • The IRCCA will have an inspection component and will be responsible for applying sanctions for any infractions
  • Penalties include fines, forced closures and seizures, and legal action, and the Institute has the authority to call on law enforcement to ensure compliance

Cannabis growing cooperatives

  • Cannabis clubs may only cultivate in a single location, and must first register with the Ministry of Education Culture as a voluntary association
  • Part of the clubs’ mission must include educating members on responsible cannabis use
  • Total production for both home cultivation and cannabis clubs must be limited to 480g per individual per year
  • Clubs' yields should be logged, and any excess should be reported and turned over to the IRCCA, which will decide what to do with it

Locations for use

  • It will be forbidden to smoke cannabis in any location where it is currently forbidden to smoke tobacco (e.g. indoors, in public buildings, or restaurants)
  • Use of the drug in schools or health centers is also forbidden

Driving

  • Driving under the influence of THC will be illegal, but a legal limit has not yet been specified

Employment

  • Cannabis use in the workplace is not permitted, and employers will be allowed to test their employees for marijuana use