MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — President Jose Mujica and his ministers signed the long-awaited rules for Uruguay’s legal pot marketplace Tuesday, launching a rollout that should stock pharmacies with government-approved marijuana cigarettes for sale by year’s end.
By putting his government at the center of a legal marijuana industry, Mujica hopes to keep otherwise law-abiding citizens away from organized crime and treat addiction as a public health challenge rather than a law enforcement threat.
Opinion polls suggest most Uruguayans are against the pot plan, but Mujica told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that his government has got to try it.
“I want to rescue society’s right to experiment. If it didn’t exist, we would be condemned to paralysis, stuck in a photo that never changes a bit. There is no other way to be able to advance,” the president said.
“The institutional life of a society is a permanent experiment. And we shouldn’t be shocked by this. It’s not like we’re grabbing society like a guinea pig and forcing it into brutal treatment. It’s that the search for solutions to difficult problems sometimes carries us to try other paths.”
Mujica and his governing Broad Front coalition ministers signed the rules behind closed doors, passing up the opportunity for a public ceremony on an issue that has dominated public discussion in Uruguay recently. But deputy presidential secretary Diego Canepa confirmed to the AP that now that the regulations carry his signature, the law is fully in effect.
That means Uruguayan citizens and legal residents 18 or older can register to obtain licenses giving them the right to cultivate up to six marijuana plants per household and harvest 480 grams a year, or join a marijuana growing club with between 15 and 45 members and no more than 99 plants.
In two weeks, the government plans to take bids and choose a handful of growers to provide marijuana to the government for sale. Those plants should be ready for harvest in time for licensed buyers to purchase up to 10 grams a week or 40 grams a month in a network of pharmacies, at a cost that will begin at about 90 cents a gram, but be adjusted to compete with illegal weed.
The rules establish that the Uruguayan state will sell five varieties of pot, with no more than 15 percent THC, the substance that makes people high. Buyers will use a fingerprint identification system so the government can track their purchases without them having to identify themselves in stores.
By no means will Uruguay become a pot smoker’s paradise, Mujica told the AP.
“There is no imaginary solution that is sold by the bottle or cigarette. That’s just escapism. And in life there are many things that are worth trying as an adventure, but not imaginary adventures that end up enslaving a life,” he said. “This is a lesson that has to be had with Young people, and that has to be ongoing, but with a tone of understanding, like from a grandfather and not an oppressive police thug.”
Uruguay’s public health system is “certainly not ready” for the consequences of the new system and will have to adjust along the way, Mujica added.
“Faced with a challenge, the challenge motivates us, pushes us and we’ll confront it along the way,” he said. “This idea of having everything planned out in advance is something beautiful for people who manufacture novels.”