Why did Uruguay legalise cannabis?

Anyone that knows Uruguayan politics will not be surprised at the seemingly audacious policy to legalise cannabis. It's part of a long political tradition.
By Karen A Higgs
Uruguay and progressive pot laws
Last updated on May 3, 2018

It’s actually legal to smoke and possess marijuana in a lot of countries.  What is different about Uruguay’s legislation is that for the first time a national government has taken charge of the entire supply chain – from crop to distribution point. That’s the radical thing.

But anyone that knows Uruguayan politics will not be surprised at the seemingly audacious political policy.

Freedom, political tradition and intoxicants in Uruguay

Taking control of intoxicants is part of Uruguayan political tradition.

To ensure that citizens were not poisoning themselves by drinking unregulated moonshine, in 1931 Uruguay created ANCAP, the government-run industry which today still refines oil, makes cement – and produces whisky.

This is not market liberalisation. Uruguay’s actions are better explained by a long and pragmatic tradition of market intervention and nationalisation. The state controls all public utilities, fixes prices for essentials like milk. It has pioneered some of the tightest controls on tobacco in the world.

The government is offering a reasonable quality, legal product to be sold to citizens and residents in a safe environment at a price that competes with that offered by illegal dealers.

In addition, Uruguayans value personal freedoms illustrated in part in the nation’s total separation of Church and State.

The cannabis museum in Montevideo that looks at the legalisation in detail.

Also read

Can foreigners smoke in Uruguay?

Photos: Guru’Guay

Article extracted from The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo where there’s a long chapter on Uruguayan society and culture. For sale in paperback in Amazon and for your tablet or phone from Guru’Guay.

[Article first published: December 9 2016, updated at the date above]




2 Responses

  1. Hello, My husband and I will be in Montevideo for about a day and half before sailing to Antarctica in October. A couple of questions:
    What are the local vegetables eaten here?
    Are leather goods more reasonably priced and better quality then in Buenos Airies(where we will be finishing our trip)?
    I believe we will be staying in a hotel about a 13 minute ride from the port. Where is the nearest deserted beach to comb?
    Your prompt reply is appreciated.

    Yours truly,


    1. Hi Kim, local vegetables are pretty much the same as you will find in Europe or North America. Uruguay is not a tropical country so there are no exotic veggies. Leather goods are probably equally as expensive in Uruguay as they are in Argentina currently. I tend to buy leather when I go back to Europe where it tends to be cheaper! I’d need the name of the neighbourhood to be able to advise you regarding beaches. All the best, Karen

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