Can the First Country to Fully Legalize the Sale and Use of Pot End Illegal Drug Trade?

Uruguay will soon be the first nation in the world to completely legalize the use, sale, and cultivation of (strikingly affordable) cannabis.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Luis Carlos Jimenez del rio

In Uruguay, it has long been legal to smoke cannabis, but growing, buying, selling or carrying it can result in prison time. However, the Uruguayan House passed a cannabis legalization bill in late July and contingent on a senate vote set for November, Uruguay is readying to become the first country in the world to completely legalize the government-controlled sale, cultivation, and consumption of cannabis. And as sales will start at just $1 per gram, it is likely to provide the most accessible cannabis anywhere in the world.

The Uruguayan system will operate similarly to the new system of legalized cannabis in Colorado, where people can buy the herb at licensed stores and grow alimited amount in their homes.

The move to legalize is an effort to explore alternatives to the unsuccessful global war on drugs. Julio Calzada, head of Uruguay's National Drugs Board, told the Guardian the government planned on setting the low price on cannabis sales in an effort to push illegal drug traffickers out of the market.

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"The illegal market is very risky and of poor quality," he said. "The price of marijuana from Paraguay that gets sold on the streets here is about $1 a gram, so we're going to set the price of government-controlled cannabis at around that same price. We want to snatch the market away from the drug traffickers."

A few months cannabis legalization passes the senate it will be sold freely at pharmacies. Calzada told the Uruguayan newspaper El País the system would take effect around mid-2014 in order to make time to harvest plants.

According to the same Guardian article , “Uruguay's government will also control the psychoactive level of the cannabis sold through the pharmacies to the consuming public by testing the THC content [the main psychoactive element in cannabis] of the plants grown under the new system.”

Uruguay’s  National Drugs Board is setting the THC content at between 5% and 12%, Calzada told the Guardian.

Under the new bill, Uruguayans will be allowed to cultivate a maximum of six plants in their homes and cooperatives of 45 members or less will be allowed to grow up to 99 plants for their own use.

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor.