Uruguay: The World’s Marijuana Metropolis

The marijuana market has changed dramatically over recent years, with the likes of the USA and a number of countries in mainland Europe legalising the substance for both medicinal and recreational usage.

Of course, that has caused controversy. On the one hand, there are campaigners for it to be legalised around the world, while others state their case for the fact that it poses its own health risks, as well as being addictive and seeing many people enter private rehab for cannabis, albeit a much lower volume than those suffering from the likes of alcohol, cocaine and even gambling addiction.

Uruguay was the catalyst for many countries reviewing the laws around medical and recreational marijuana, and was the pioneer in the legalisation of it just five years ago.

But half a decade on, how does the marijuana landscape look in the South American country?

Esteban Riviera, who owns a pharmacy in the capital of Montevideo, told the BBC just how rocky the road has been, from huge sales to banks threatening to close his accounts.

Esteban said, “I was the first pharmacy registered to sell cannabis, but I was also the first pharmacy that stopped selling cannabis in Uruguay.”

Five years ago when marijuana was first legalised sales went through the roof, with Riviera’s pharmacy alone selling over 1,250 packages of the substance in just six hours, with queues around the block.

However, there did come problems. Despite many people using it for medicinal reasons, at the time it wasn’t kindly looked upon by US banks, of which many pharmacies were using. Once the banks discovered that the pharmacies were accepting marijuana money, for whatever purpose, they were threatened with account closures.

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Many businesses registered in Uruguay use US banking and therefore have to abide by the strict banking regulations in the nation and laws on controlled substances.

That has led to a decline in the market in Uruguay. Pharmacies are the only places allowed to sell marijuana and, partly because of the banking restrictions, only 17 pharmacies now stock it, in a country of three and a half millions.

Naturally, the demand did begin to wane in the months following the legalisation of marijuana in the country, but with so few places available to get the substance, the queues haven’t exactly slowed down.

It is still tightly controlled. Only four strains are available, and the prices are set by the regulator, while customers can only purchase a set amount of marijuana each week in order to try and control the risks that come with it.

That said, it is still working smoothly and many countries will be looking to Uruguay as they begin to legalise the substance.

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