Uruguay’s Cannabis Law: Pioneering A New Paradigm

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As the first country to legalize and regulate non-medical cannabis, the case of Uruguay holds important lessons for other jurisdictions that may consider regulatory approaches to cannabis instead of persisting with prohibition.

The stated goals of the December 2013 law regulating cannabis in Uruguay were to reduce violence stemming from drug trafficking, promote public health, and eliminate the contradictions in laws regarding cannabis access and use.

Uruguay’s leaders, mindful of domestic and international concerns, have taken a deliberately strict approach to regulating cannabis.

Consumers must choose only one of the three forms of legal access to cannabis—homegrowing, clubs, or commercial purchase—and must register with the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA).

Only two companies are currently licensed to produce cannabis for sale, the price is fixed, there are weekly and monthly purchase limits, and sales to tourists are not permitted.

Commercial sales through pharmacies began in July 2017 but have been hindered by supply problems and by curtailed access to financial services—a constraint that applies to U.S. cannabis dispensaries as well—pushing Uruguayan authorities to consider creating new, cash-only cannabis sales outlets.

On March 21, the Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) will release a paper examining Uruguay’s progress in implementing its pioneering cannabis law.

Brookings’ John Hudak and WOLA’s John Walsh, two of the paper’s authors, will be joined by a panel of experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities Uruguay faces five years after legalization.

After the session, speakers will take audience questions.