Uruguay Plans Pharmacy-Run Marijuana Sales in 2015 Under Vazquez

Recreational pot will hit pharmacy shelves in Uruguay as President Tabare Vazquez moves to fully implement a sweeping cannabis law signed by his predecessor, a senior government policy maker said.

“The law is going to be implemented and we are going to end up selling marijuana in the pharmacies like the law says,” Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drugs Board, said in an interview Thursday.

Wedged between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay became the first country in the world to regulate cannabis for recreational, medicinal and industrial uses in December 2013. Former President Jose “Pepe” Mujica pitched the measure to Uruguayans as a way to allow legal growers to undercut a black market that government estimates put at about 22 tons a year.

Uruguay’s plan to issue up to five licenses to grow as much as two tons of pot each to supply pharmacies has attracted 11 investors, including Canadian medical-marijuana producer Tilray and U.S. pot entrepreneur Jordan Lewis.

“We are waiting for the preselected companies to submit the required documentation, which they haven’t done yet,” said Romani, who declined to say when the licenses will be awarded.

Under local regulations, residents 18 or older who register with a government database can grow at home or through cannabis clubs as much as 480 grams (1.1 pounds) a year for personal use. Pot users will eventually be able to buy 40 grams a month, enough to make about 60 joints, from pharmacies at a price Romani said will be around $1 a gram.

President Vazquez, a 75-year-old oncologist, took office March 1 after previously serving as president from 2005-2010.

Neighboring countries have taken a wait and see approach to marijuana regulation. The International Narcotics Control Board said in its annual report published this week that Uruguay’s law would negatively affect the control of drugs and was “inconsistent” with its treaty obligations under the 1961 drug control convention.

“The INCB overstepped its bounds,” Romani said. “The INCB can say we aren’t complying with the convention. It can’t say that we are putting neighboring countries in danger.”

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