Uruguay pharmacies start selling pot

A woman registers as a marijuana buyer at a state post officer in Montevideo, on May 2, 2017.
A woman registers as a marijuana buyer at a state post officer in Montevideo, on May 2, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MONTEVIDEO (AFP) - Pharmacies in Uruguay start selling marijuana from Wednesday (July19) under the final phase of a four-year-old law that made the small South American country the first in the world to legalise pot from production to sale.

The government of leftist President Tabare Vazquez announced the commercialisation of pot last week.

Little information has been given, however, on the 16 pharmacies selected to start offering the drug to Uruguay's 3.4 million residents.

The government did not work out deals with the big pharmacy chains that cover the country.

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Sales will not be on a walk-in basis, however.

Under the legislation set by the state agency regulating the marijuana market, people have to register to buy pot in pharmacies. Only registered residents can do so - preventing drug tourism.

So far, 4,959 people have signed on, most of them in the 30 to 44 age group, according to government figures.

The pharmacy sales form the last of three phases set out under the 2013 law.

Under the early phases of the 2013 law, more than 6,948 people have registered to grow weed at home and 63 smokers' clubs have been authorised.

Only two companies were authorised to produce marijuana for pharmacies - under military protection and with no public access.

The state Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCC) has authorised the sale of two types of marijuana, to be sold in 5g packets.

On Monday, the National Drugs Council tweeted an image of what the packages would look like: blue-and-white sealed sachets that look something like condom packets.

An "Alfa I" package contains "Alfa I variety cannabis hybrid with Indica predominant". Another sort has "Beta I variety cannabis" with Sativa. The levels of THC - the psychotropic constituent in cannabis - are given on the outside, for consumer information.

The packets also bear a "Warnings" section about the risks of consuming marijuana and recommendations on how to do it more safely.

The packets are being retailed at US$6.60 (S$9) each, according to the IRCCA.

Uruguay's goal is legalising the sale of marijuana for recreational use is to cut down on illegal smuggling.