Legalizing marijuana is a slow, tedious process, with no clear recipe for success. A perfect example of this is Uruguay, the first country in the world to legalize marijuana. While legal marijuana was established in 2013, the country still has a thriving black market that has adapted and survived legalization.
Per a study conducted by a local institute that regulates cannabis, only 27% of Uruguayan consumers buy their drugs legally.
Montevideo (AFP) has quotes from several cultivators and marijuana users based in Uruguay, who explained that, despite legalization, government-regulated marijuana still has many issues that the majority of consumers would rather avoid.
There are three legal routes for consumers to purchase marijuana: at pharmacies, through home growing for personal use, and by belonging to a cannabis-producing club. While the latter method is the one that’s most appealing to people, offering more variety, these clubs have long wait lines and are limited by how many members they can have.
Buyers of Uruguay’s black market explain that the country’s marijuana products are limited and it’s easier to acquire what you want from the black market, even if the legal route results in cheaper products. Purchasing legal products require people to make appointments. Via the black market, buyers can simply contact their dealer and purchase what they want.
The legalization of marijuana has resulted in different factors. It has dealt a blow to drug trafficking, drastically reducing it, and has eliminated the danger associated with the black market. “I don’t see it as the black market,” said a 28-year-old black market buyer. “It has good prices for what is sold and you don’t feel like you’re making use of drug trafficking.”
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She explains that there’s always “a friend or an acquaintance who passes you a contact from someone who has flowers and sells them.”
Another contributing factor is the fact that the legal marijuana that’s available in pharmacies across Uruguay is limited to 10% THC. Most seasoned users want stronger products or are seeking other strains that are not offered legally.
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To battle this, the Uruguayan has discussed increasing the THC limits in their pharmacies and providing users with a larger variety of products. Still, marijuana is in a complicated position right now. While it was introduced by a leftist government when José Mujica was president, Uruguay now has a center-right president whose administration isn’t pushing for the drug’s advancement.
“I don’t believe in the state growing and selling marijuana,” president Luis Lacalle Pou told BCC. “I believe in people, cannabis clubs, or whatever we have, that they produce their own marijuana and they can have their own circles of marijuana use.”