There's A Lot More To Uruguay's Legal Weed Than The $1-A-Gram Price

07/05/2014 8:01 AM AEST | Updated May 7, 2014 08:59
MIGUEL ROJO via Getty Images

The regulations for Uruguay’s legalized, government-controlled marijuana trade went into effect Tuesday, though it will still be a few months before the first legal weed is sold under the new law.

While Uruguay’s trailblazing law aimed at scaling back U.S.-led drug war policies has invited comparisons to the legal weed market in Colorado, there are some sharp differences. Perhaps most glaringly, the Uruguayan government is setting the price for legal weed at about $1 per gram, in an attempt to channel pot smokers into the legal market rather than continuing to prop up drug traffickers. By contrast, people in Colorado paid anywhere from $7 to $26 per gram when the law was first implemented in January, plus 25 percent in taxes.

Here’s everything you need to know about Uruguay’s new weed regulations.

It’s not a Colorado-style free-for-all. Under regulations that went into effect Tuesday, Uruguayans may buy no more than 40 grams of marijuana per month at pharmacies, in batches not to exceed 10 grams -- a much more limited scope than the recreational marijuana legalization enacted in the U.S. state of Colorado, where adults may buy up to 28 grams at a time with no weekly or monthly limits. Uruguay plans to monitor pot smokers' purchases using a database that identifies users using fingerprint readers, according to The Associated Press.

The law contains other limitations. Those who purchase marijuana under the new law must be either Uruguayan citizens or permanent residents, a move aimed at limiting international weed tourism. The regulations that went into effect Tuesday prohibit advertising for weed.

The government will sell it. The Uruguayan government plans to sell clones of approved weed plants, according to AP, in order to keep track of marijuana distribution. It will be a crime under the new law to possess marijuana that doesn’t have the government weed’s genetic markers.

Uruguayan President José Mujica said the restrictions were needed to keep the legalization of marijuana from undermining public health.

“We aren’t going to promote smokefests, bohemianism, all this stuff they try to pass off as innocuous when it isn’t,” Mujica told The Associated Press. “They’ll label us reactionaries. But this isn’t a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness.”

There's still a few months to go before sales begin. The regulations that went into effect on Tuesday set the legal framework for Uruguay’s marijuana trade, but actual government sales won’t begin until November, according to Uruguayan daily El País.

But you can always grow it yourself... Those who want to smoke marijuana legally must choose between buying government weed, growing it at home, or joining a club of people who grow it together. Those who grow at home may keep up to six plants, but must limit their consumption to 480 grams per year, according to the law. Households with multiple pot smokers might want to go the pharmacy route, since the regulations only allow one group of six plants per home, regardless of how many people live there.

Those who already grow marijuana plants need to register them within 180 days after the new regulations go into effect. After that, only those who first ask for permission will be allowed to grow weed legally.

...or grow it co-op style. Those with collective ethics may elect to start a “Cannabis Club,” composed of between 15 and 45 members who grow weed together. Such clubs must educate their members about responsible marijuana use. The clubs may grow up to 99 plants, but face the same 480 gram per year restriction as other users.

Don't even think about bringing it to work. The new marijuana regulations specify that it is illegal to “smoke, leave lit, consume or ingest cannabis or cannabis-based products during work hours.” Driving under the influence of weed is prohibited and the laws specifically bar anyone from smoking marijuana in taxis, ambulances, school buses, trains, planes and other forms of public transportation. The regulations say that it’s possible to suspend someone from work if tests show that they have been smoking weed on the job. Likewise, no weed allowed at school.

Violators will be punished, but not with jail time. A new government agency, the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis, will oversee Uruguay’s marijuana trade. Those who violate the regulations published Tuesday could face penalties including fines from 50 to 2,000 Uruguayan peso -- which works out to about $2 at the low end to about $87 on the high end -- as well as the destruction of their illicit weed and their expulsion from the weed registry. Those who own pharmacies that sell weed would risk having their businesses closed temporarily or permanently, according to the regulations. But the rules do not mention imprisonment.

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