Uruguay plans to allow tourists to buy marijuana
The first country in the world to legalize most uses of marijuana is now seeking to end illicit sales and support its cannabis industry by allowing foreign visitors to purchase weed.
According to Daniel Radio, secretary general of the National Drugs Agency, the government of Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou could unveil its plan this year in order to build consensus and political support. The aim is not to promote Uruguay as a destination for cannabis tourism, but rather to divert tourists from the black market to the regulated market, according to Deputy Tourism Minister Remo Monzeglio.
Allowing tourists to access legal cannabis would dramatically increase the potential number of clients of the sector in this country of 3,5 million people. Often during the summer which runs from December to February in the southern hemisphere, millions of Argentines and Brazilians flock to the country's beaches. But the pandemic has eroded those numbers as the country severely restricted visits from foreigners.
Uruguay plans to reopen its borders to all fully vaccinated foreigners on November 1.
“It seems to me that if we come up with a good proposal,” Uruguay could open up its regulated market for weed to tourists, Radio said in an interview. "For the next tourist season, it is very unlikely, but I would not exclude it".
Uruguayan law allows adult citizens and foreign residents who are registered in the government registry to grow their own cannabis, but also to join a cannabis club or buy from licensed pharmacies 40 grams per month.
In another interview, Monzeglio said he was proposing to charge foreign tourists more, with the proceeds going to fund drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.
A presidential decree would probably be the fastest way to open pharmacies, and potentially cannabis clubs, to tourists who register with the database, Radio said. To waive the database requirement, Congress would have to pass a law, he added.
Uruguay was at the forefront of cannabis legalization when lawmakers passed sweeping law in 2013 that its supporters said would defend individual freedom, curb drug trafficking gangs and generate exports.
However, nearly eight years later, the gangs are still in business, annual exports have yet to reach the hoped-for millions of US dollars, and competition is intensifying as other countries pass new laws on crime. cannabis.
"I think we have been overly optimistic about the possibilities for growth, because we are not playing alone here", a declared Radio, which also runs the cannabis regulatory agency Ircca. Cannabis exports have more than doubled to nearly US $ 7,5 million in 2020, but that total is still a far cry from the hundreds of millions of dollars some industry players have predicted.
Colombia is emerging as a competitor for cannabis investments thanks to favorable rules and a growing climate among the best in the world.
Still, Uruguay relies on its new laws to speed up exports and its reputation for transparency to do business to stay at the forefront of the cannabis industry, according to Radio. The IRCC has approved 56 licenses for the cultivation of medical cannabis, research / development and the manufacture of medical products as well as those for everyday consumption.
“Some investments appear in manufacturing and value-added processes. This is our bet, because it is the only way for Uruguay to be competitive, ”said Mr. Radio, citing the high costs of labor and energy in the country.
Currently, law 19172, enacted in 2013, allows access to marijuana through self-cultivation, cannabis clubs or licensed pharmacies. In addition, consumers must be over the age of 18, have Uruguayan citizenship or permanent residence in the country.
Radío said that one option to allow access to tourists would be to implement by decree "a kind of temporary registration that would end when the citizen leaves the country".
Likewise, the president of the IRCCA declared that the opening must be “gradual”, so he believes that, initially, tourists will only be able to buy cannabis in pharmacies.