Juan Vaz, a prominent Uruguayan activist and marijuana grower, monitors the rear room of his store in Montevideo, the nation's capital, as connoisseurs look over cases of Ziploc pockets filled with different varieties. Labels with sobriquets like "amnesia," "chocolope," "tangie" and "sour power," line the unadorned board shelves.
The marijuana isn't Juan's to sell, though, he's a broker. The stash is owned by the members of the 420 Club who collects their monthly ration, 40 grams while the next harvest lounges under sun lamps in a vented room upstairs.
"It gives me peace being part of a clique," says Vaz as he places eight bags into a grocery sack for a member. "Street sellers often try to make their patrons take samples of cocaine, attempting to get them hooked on more deadly drugs."
Uruguay Marijuana Business Still Struggles
Almost twenty-four months after Uruguay became the initial nation to legalize marijuana, the country's administrative bodies, law-enforcement officers and drugstores are still playing catch-up with home producers.
Uruguay's Senate passed the country's marijuana laws in December 2013. The legislation allows marijuana users entrance in three ways: raising it at home, buying from licensed drugstores or common "grow clubs" like Juan Vaz's 420.
Even with the second anniversary just weeks away, the state agency was intended to regulate the legal business is underfunded and understaffed. Police proceed to harry producers, and the drugstore design hasn't progressed past the drawing, board.
"At the moment, this is neither authorized or illegal," said Vaz. He has to navigate a complicated confirmation scheme overseen by the country's cannabis statute and control institute, IRCCA, the state body set up to regulate marijuana use and watch the clubs.
The IRCCA still employs just six civil servants, and they struggle to keep up with the clubs waiting for registration. Only one of the twenty which has applied has gone through the approval process, and no one knows when the others will receive approval. The IRCCA was created in an election year; it still does not yet have its own resources and has to wait for 2016 spending projections.
The IRCCA is the responsible board for managing a database of cannabis producers. Notwithstanding repeated promises of privacy, the project has generated debate over how the information may be used. Over 2,500 people have registered, but many more are reluctant — especially after comments by President Tabare Vazquez, who said in a recent speech that the arrangement might be used to "rehabilitate" drug users.
Two Years in Marijuana
2013 was a banner year for cannabis. Besides national legislation legalizing it in Uruguay, Recreational pot stores were opened in Colorado and Washington State in America. Some states are still struggling to get their act together as they wrestle with laws that twist and turn.
With many states in America having draconian laws in place regarding pot, Nevada is a prime example of the schizophrenia surrounding marijuana use in America.
The Nevada Legislation enacted a law permitting dispensaries and growers to take care of the state’s medical marijuana clients in 2013.
Two years later, the system is finally being put into place. So far, in 2015, two dispensaries have opened, and dozens more are expected. The few cultivators and processors already working are putting in overtime to keep up with demand.
A drive to legalize medical marijuana in Nevada is moving forward. Initiative Petition 1, which would tax and control pot, similar to alcohol, will be on the 2016 ballot.
Nevada is one of twenty states that have decriminalized the personal use of pot.
Despite Nevada being considered a “decriminalization” state, ownership of marijuana is often treated severely. First offense, possession, of up to an ounce punished by a $600 fine rather than jail time. The person is subjected to jail and drug dependence screening that could lead to compulsory treatment and rehab.
A second offense is tagged with a $1,000 fine and drug addiction screening.
Possessing two ounces could land someone in jail for four years.
In 2013, the year for which up-to-date figures are available, there were over 8,000 marijuana-related arrests or citations in Nevada. 85% of them were for possession. The same year, over 90% of all motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, and home invasions went unsolved.
More progressive states, like Washington and Colorado, can develop successful programs by seeing what has worked in Uruguay:
1. Growing and Trading Now Legal
Smoking pot has been legal in Uruguay for decades. It wasn't until the recent legislation that it was legal to grow or buy. During the interim, a strange legal situation existed where consumption was sanctioned but a person couldn't legally buy anything to consume.
In December, the head of the National Drug Commission, Julio Calzada, announced the registration of over 1,100 cannabis growers.
2. Debate Shaken Up
The regional debate on weed has been shaken up. Marijuana legalization was aimed at undercutting drug cartels and reducing crime. Now, there are signals that other countries in the region are noticing. Eight Latin American countries are very likely to loosen their drug policies shortly. The nonprofit research group, InSight Crime, has a list of likely countries include Argentina, which is thinking about legalization and Brazil, which is debating the issue at the national governance level.
3. Price is Dropping
The price of street pot in Uruguay has dropped since being legalized. The law of supply and demand, which sets prices for any product, is morphing. Local growers have moved in to meet demand and pot users can now grow their own weed with impunity.
Uruguay's primary goal in legalization was to hit drug cartels where it hurts. This price shift mirrors the impact of legalization elsewhere, particularly the United States.
Texas Public Radio http://tpr.org/post/legal-pot-us-may-be-undercutting-mexican-marijuana#stream/0 … announced that legal weed in the US is undercutting marijuana growers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which supplies the American black market.
Cannabis Tourism in America might follow Uruguay's pattern.
A typical "cannabis tour" in Uruguay includes a stay at a "cannabis-friendly" hotel, free samples, transportation from the ferry landing, visits to dispersaries and growouses. Some hotels even offer various workshops such as "cooking with cannabis."
With almost two years practical experience, there has developed some agendas that work to boost and bolster cannabis tourism.
One of the largest challenges Uruguay has faced has been to identify and minimize problems associated with cross-border trade between regions with differeing regulatory thoughts about cannabis.
Traditional destination tourism is relatively non-problematic and brings economic benefits for the destination.
Localized cross-border trade might present a problem, but is likely to be a relatively small-scale issue.
Border enforcement responses are apt to be expensive, ineffective and counterproductive
Rationing sales may help moderate cross-border trade. Overly tight restrictions will incentivize a parallel criminal market.
Cannabis tourism is an issue that can best be solved by legalizing and regulating weed on both sides of a border.
- Absent cooperation on enforcement, the potential is a challenge that has no obvious solution. Enforcement responses will make things worse, and localized market regulation might moderate the problem, but is unlikely to eliminate it.
- Uruguay's model of cannabis regulation makes it difficult for cannabis tourism problems to appear. For example, enforcing a resident-only restriction on cannabis sales from the start, there has been no anticipation from cross-border visitors that they will have unlimited access to the new market.
- Uruguay's legislation that rations sales to small-scale purchases for personal use also serves to moderate the problem.
- Resident only, and membership club-based sales, also help since they were put in place from the start. Caution though is needed with these otpions: any model that limiits legal-market access in too arbitrary a manner is apt to lead to parallel illegal markets popping up to fill the void.