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Marijuana Clubs Register in Uruguay, But Backlash Brews

Bill Weinberg

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Uruguay started registering marijuana growers‘ clubs at the end of October. Under the plan, licensed clubs of up to 45 members will be allowed to grow a maximum of 99 plants annually, with each club member permitted to produce up to 480 grams per year. This is an advance on the regulation approved in August, allowing personal cultivation of up to six plants. And the private sector may get on board next. The government’s Institute for Control and Regulation of Cannabis (IRCCA) reports that 22 private companies –10 of them foreign-based — have expressed interest in producing or distributing cannabis in the small South American nation.

But with a presidential race underway and left-wing incumbent José Mujica barred by term limits from running, his vision for a legal cannabis economy in Uruguay may face political challenges. Candidate Luis Lacalle Pouof the conservative National Party would roll back the advances for herbal freedom. “I will keep the law’s articles that allow users to grow their own cannabis at home and authorize smoking clubs and repeal the rest, in particular the state’s commercialization of the drug,” he told Reuters last month. “I will send a bill to parliament to repeal it. We will need a majority in parliament, and I will look for support.” Pedro Bordaberry, candidate for the right-wing Colorado Party wanted to overturn the legalization policy altogether. Fortunately, he was knocked out of the race in the Oct. 26 first round. In a Nov. 30 run-off, Lacalle Pou will face Tabaré Vázquez of Mujica’s Frente Amplio (Broad Front). Vázquez, himself a former president, supports the legalization policy, and is slightly ahead in the polls.

The Uruguayan experiment is meanwhile catching on in the region — if cautiously. Chile’s first legal medical marijuana crop was planted in October in La Florida district of Santiago. It is to be processed into cannabis oil for use by registered cancer patients. However, authorities were clear that this is strictly for medicinal purposes. “We don’t want to get into a debate about the personal use of marijuana,” La Florida mayor Rodolfo Carter told the BBC. “Let’s stick to the medical issue. This is about providing people who are suffering from cancer with a natural, healthier and cheaper treatment for their pain.”

The project will be overseen by the Daya Foundation, a local not-for-profit, which anticipates the program’s growth. “Eventually, we want to make cannabis medicine available for everybody, even if they can’t afford it,” said the foundation’s Nicolas Dormal.

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