Uruguay looks to open cannabis to tourists

Visitors to Uruguay may soon be able to buy cannabis. The motivation, says the govt, is to remove ‘inequality’ between tourists and citizens.
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on November 16, 2021

Visitors to Uruguay may soon be able to buy cannabis. And according to the government, the motivating factor for the change in legislation is ‘equality’ between travellers and citizens.

Uruguay revolutionised the marijuana industry in 2013, becoming the first country in the world to take full control of the entire chain of cannabis production—from growth to sale. But the government of the time (the Frente Amplio who were in power 2005-2020) trod carefully as the law was controversial and wasn’t broadly  supported across society. As a result, marijuana could only be legal purchased or grown by citizens or residents. Now, there’s news that tourists may soon be able to buy cannabis. And the motivating factor is ‘equality’.

The current law discriminates against tourists

The current government understands that the 2013 regulations are “based on inequity”. The “universalisation” of marijuana consumption is based on the concept, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism, that “any person in our national territory, whether they are a foreigner or not,” should have the same rights regarding consumption, “under the same conditions as a Uruguayan”. This is inline with Uruguay’s often enlightened approach to drugs and alcohol since the 1930s.

The national drug czar, who also heads the Institute for the Regulation and Monitoring of Cannabis, said in an interview last week it is very possible that within the next couple of months Uruguay may legalise the purchase of marijuana by visitors.

He was quick to emphasise that they are not looking to promote the consumption of marijuana, but he also added that he doesn’t like the term cannabis tourism—because “when a person comes to Uruguay to drink the wine, nobody says that they are indulging in alcoholic tourism”.

Registering to buy marijuana

The regulations are still under discussion. However the interview infers that anybody interested will have to register—just like Uruguayans—and on leaving the country, the registration will become null and void.

In the medium or long-term it’s possible that cannabis boutiques may be authorised, but in the short term, it is more likely that tourists will be able to buy cannabis from pharmacies. That’s not ideal, as there as very few pharmacies have opted to sell cannabis in Uruguay. Just over twenty—most of which are in the capital.

The cannabis is sold in pharmacies in Uruguay currently

Pharmacies in Uruguay sell packs two types of cannabis. Alpha is mainly Indica and Beta mainly sativa. The drug czar recognised in parliament that there is not a huge demand for pharmacy-sold marijuana because it isn’t very strong (9% or less of THC and 3% or less of CBD). He did add that the authorised companies are working on a new variety with 10% THC and less CBD, likely available by the end of 2022.

In pharmacies, a 5-gram pack of dried buds costs 370 pesos, about 8 dollars.




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