The senate of Uruguay is expected to approve a marijuana law today that will legalize the sale, production and consumption of weed for recreational purposes, turning this tiny nation of 3.5 million people into the first country in the world to fully regulate this herb.
But this is no marijuana free for all. Weed use, which was first approved by the House of Representatives in July, will be controlled in several forms by the government and its 78-year-old president Pepe Mujica. Here´s how it will work:
Only Uruguayan nationals and permanent residents can buy pot
Tourists will not be allowed to buy legal weed. And it will be illegal for residents to sell their weed to tourists.
There is a limit to how much pot you can buy
Residents will be limited to 40 grams of legal pot per month, which is good enough for around 60 joints. A national registry system will keep track of how much pot everyone is buying.
You can´t just buy it at your local corner shop
Marijuana will be sold at government approved pharmacies and the government will set the price.
But marijuana will be pretty cheap in Uruguay
Uruguayan officials have said that legal pot will sell for about $1 a gram at pharmacies. That´s about $28 per ounce, for those of you who don´t dig the metric system. That´s cheap compared to the U.S., where an ounce of weed ranges from $250 to $400 according to High Times magazine. The government of Uruguay is trying to keep marijuana prices low, in order to put drug gangs out of business.
Don´t want to pay? You can grow your own weed too.
Each Uruguayan citizen will be allowed to grow up to six plants at home. These plants are not allowed to yield more than 480 grams of weed per year.
Don´t know how to grow weed? You can join a club
Cannabis growers´clubs will be allowed under the new law. They can have between 15 to 45 members and can grow a number of plants that is proportional to the annual weed quota of each member.
Here are some other things to keep in mind about Uruguay´s marijuana law.
This law is actually not that popular in Uruguay
In a recent national poll, 61% of respondents said that they oppose the marijuana law. The law has been unpopular since it was first introduced last year, and public information campaigns rolled out by the government don´t seem to have changed opinions much. Uruguay however, is not the only country in Latin America with conservative attitudes towards marijuana. Polls taken in Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Colombia, suggest that large percentages of the populations of these countries oppose the legalization of weed. The government of Uruguay argues that even if people are against legalization, it is a necessary step to take in order tackle drug gangs, and decrease their profits. President Mujica has also said that he´d rather users head to a pharmacy to buy weed, than "deliver them" to the hands of drug traffickers.
It´s a socialist experiment, kind of
This is no free market policy for weed. The government of Uruguay is strictly regulating the price of weed, instead of allowing retailers and producers to set their own price. There will be some profits for producers, who must receive government authorization to grow weed, but the government also plans to use revenues from weed sales to fund public health programs.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.