Crime Rate Drops But Uruguay Struggles With Illicit Sale Of Cannabis To Tourists

Photo Credit: Reuters

As the summer months roll in and the tourists begin to arrive, Uruguay may see more than a few disgruntled backpackers as its 2017 legalization of marijuana still only applies to the nation’s residents.

Since marijuana legalization, there has been an almost 20 percent drop in drug-related crime. However, state agents still keep a close eye on the members of the nation’s agricultural community who are allowed to grow the medical substance at home and in cultivation clubs which can range in size from 15 to 45 people.

Per the new legislation, Uruguayans or those with permanent residency over the age of 18 are permitted to smoke cannabis in public and purchase it either from their local pharmacy or harvest a crop of up to six plants.

Those who decide to join a cultivation club or individual production are subject to routine checks from police to assure the stipulations are being observed.

But the annual surge in tourist over the summer months may prove a problem for the industry, officials say, as pressure to allow the legal sale of marijuana to visitor builds. Revista Forum reports that the majority of beachgoers in possession of marijuana admit they acquired it illegally.

“We passed the idea of avant-garde country, and the foreigner arrives here and cannot buy?” Montevideo’s Cannabis Museum director, Eduardo Balsina, said to Revista Forum. “It is wrong because somehow it will arrive at the product, through an illegal market, which is precisely what one wanted to combat.”

A few Uruguayan community nurseries hoping to snag an extra dollar began organizing visits like those at a winery or coffee company, allowing foreigners to tour the grounds and sample their product for the small fee of $250 a visit. These were quickly closed by public officials.

Pharmacies with offshore bank accounts have also seen an increase in security with numerous occasions leading to cancelled transactions among other difficulties. A commission to review the various instances has been sent to the US to deliberate the issue one case at a time, the Uruguayan government assured.

Until the issue is resolved, officials recommend pharmacies entrust their funds to the Bank of the Republic of Uruguay.