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Uruguay will offer dirt-cheap legal weed—under certain conditions

A pharmacy displays a sign at the front door telling clients that they do not have marijuana for sale
AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico
Coming soon to a pharmacy, probably not that near you.
  • Ana Campoy
By Ana Campoy

Deputy editor, global finance and economics

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country in the world with a legal, nationwide pot market. Today the government started registering people to buy marijuana for recreational purposes, a requirement under the country’s 2013 marijuana legalization law. Pot is expected to hit the shelves by July.

Legal marijuana will be remarkably cheap: $1.30 a gram. In the US state of Washington, one of the few other spots on the planet where marijuana is sold like beer, the average price per gram so far this year is more than $7, according to market research firm Headset.

But pot enthusiasts around the world shouldn’t rush to pack their bags. The merchandise will be for citizens and permanent residents only.

The strict rules are part of an elaborate regulatory apparatus that Uruguay has set up to ensure that pot doesn’t get diverted into the wrong hands. Drug-legalization advocates and public officials around the world have been watching closely how the Uruguayan experiment unfolds.

It’s been a slow and deliberate process that started with allowing people to grow their own weed at home, and then through clubs. Since the date pot was legalized, it’s taken more than three years to roll out retail sales.

Uruguay’s approach can be summed up with the sobering motto of the marijuana awareness campaign the government also launched this week: “To regulate is to be responsible” or #RegularEsSerResponsable.

The cheap prices are meant to beat the black market, not to make pot accessible for all. Consumers will be allowed to buy 40 grams a month, a limit that will be policed through fingerprint sensors installed in pharmacies, the official vendors. And it won’t be ubiquitous, at least in the beginning. Only 30 pharmacies have signed up to sell marijuana so far, according to local media (link in Spanish.)

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