Uruguay became the first country to allow recreational marijuana, when President Jose “Pepe” Mujica signed the bill into law in December 2013 that legalized cannabis in the nation of 3.5 million.
However, since the pioneering legislation was passed, the road to bringing it to the public has been uneven and at times completely stalled.
In March 2018, the Brookings Institution studied the opportunities and challenges of legalization in the South American country. The researchers found that the current regulatory framework was insufficient to displace the illicit market.
Most Uruguayan banks, for instance, have refused to do business with marijuana organizations fearing that they will be sanctioned or refused business from United States financial institutions and United Nations members that classify marijuana as an illegal drug.
Even four years after the law was passed, only 17 of 1,000 government pharmacies offered cannabis because of pressure from banks. Those that do must sell on a cash basis.
However, Canada’s legalization of recreational marijuana may pave the way for Uruguayan banks and pharmacies to do business with its financial institutions. Efforts by the World Health Organization to reclassify marijuana and acknowledge medicinal benefits are also hopeful signs for the future of the legal cannabis industry in the country.
Political changes also have slowed availability. The current president, Tabaré Vázquez, is a physician and considers marijuana to be dangerous. Also, the Ministry of Health and the National Police have been uneven in their policies and enforcement.
Where is it Safe to Purchase and Consume?
Cannabis is available to Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents 18 and older. Cannabis is not available for sale to tourists. Cannabis can be purchased only at government-run pharmacies. Individuals can purchase up to 40 grams, or 1.4 ounces, per month; according to subsequent regulations, the limit is 10 grams, or 0.35 ounces, per week..
Uruguay’s cannabis law forbids cannabis use in indoor public spaces where tobacco use is prohibited. Uruguay prohibits any form of advertising or promotion.
Nonmedical users must register to buy marijuana and choose only one of the three legal forms of cannabis supply: home growing, clubs, or commercial purchase.
When the law was passed, pharmacies were not required to sell cannabis and most chose not to opt into the system, leading to long lines at the pharmacies that do provide marijuana.
The government is considering creating designated dispensaries.
Each Uruguayan citizen is allowed to grow up to six plants at home. These plants are not allowed to yield more than 480 grams (17 ounces) of marijuana per year.
Cannabis growers clubs can have between 15 and 45 members, and grow a number of plants proportional to the annual marijuana quota per member.
There are only two authorized commercially grown strains available with a THC cap of 9%.
Commercial growers must individually apply to be licensed by the state to produce and sell cannabis. As of March 2018, there were only two such companies, leading to shortages in supply.
Officials in February 2019 began issuing applications for producers to grow marijuana for commercial purposes.
Approved growers will have an annual production quota of 2,000 kilograms, or 4,400 pounds, of dried flower. No other products will be allowed. Each producer will be assigned about 3 hectares of government-owned land and plants must be grown indoors.
The Ministry of Public Health through the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA).
Uruguay currently doesn’t require lab testing.
While cannabis flower is readily available, the processes for approving CBD and cannabis for medical uses has not been as smooth.
According to Cannabis Monitor Uruguay, 23% of medicinal marijuana patients purchase it from abroad, Of those who buy in Uruguay, “half do so through self-cultivation (with and without registration in the IRCCA) and the other half through supply by other people (growers, producers of extracts, etc.).”
A 2015 executive order instructed the IRCCA to authorize physicians to prescribe cannabis in monthly increments. However, only one CBD product, Epifractan, at 2% and 5% extracts, is available by prescription They are imported in 10 millimeter vials.
Cannabinoid oral sprays or synthetic cannabinoids require specialized and restricted prescriptions and waivers from the Ministry of Public Health to import them under a “compassionate use” exception.
Prescriptions are valid for 30 days before a new prescription must be filled. During that period, patients are not allowed to access any other form of legal cannabis.
Commercial producers in the country are working to create refined CBD oils and whole plant extracts by the end of 2019.
Qualifying Conditions and Patient Rights
Uruguay has not set qualifying conditions, although it is recommended for a few uses, including pain relief, cancer, seizures, epilepsy, and degenerative neurological diseases.
This page was last updated on June 7, 2019.