All posts tagged: Americas

How Uruguay made legal highs work

The South American countrys move to full legalisation of cannabis has so far proved a success, especially for its 17,391 users

Every afternoon a long queue of people gathers outside a tiny neighbourhood pharmacy in Montevideo. The shop is so small that they can only be let in one at a time. Its a slow process but the mostly young clients dont seem to mind. They stand outside or sit on doorsteps chatting in groups of twos and threes as they wait their turn in the warm southern spring.

A chemist inside in a green medical coat asks them each to press their thumb on a fingerprint scanner. The electronic device is connected to a central government computer that will either authorise or deny the purchase of their allotted 10 weekly grams of legal marijuana. It is a state-controlled, high quality product guaranteed to provide excellent highs.

On the street 25 grams of marijuana would cost you 3,000 pesos, thats about $100 for something with probably a large amount of pesticide, seeds and stems, says Luciano, a young buyer who is next in line. But here the same amount would cost you only $30, and it comes in guaranteed, premium quality, thermosealed 5g packs.

In July this year, tiny Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise the sale of marijuana across its entire territory.

The most important thing has been the change of paradigm, says Gastn Rodrguez Lepera, shareholder in Symbiosis, one of the two private firms producing cannabis for the governments Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. Uruguay dived in at the deep end without too much international support. They said it wouldnt work. Well, its working now.

With a population of only 3.4 million, squeezed in between its two giant South American neighbours Brazil and Argentina (population 208 million and 43 million respectively), Uruguay has long been at the forefront of liberal policies not only in South America but worldwide.

A divorce law that allowed women to separate from their husbands simply by asking a court for permission was passed as far back as 1913. Abortion was legalised in 2012, with Uruguay the only country in Latin America to do so apart from Cuba.

Part of the reason for Uruguays liberal temperament is a longstanding separation of church and state in a region where the Catholic Church remains dominant. There is no official Christmas day on Uruguays state calendar. Most Uruguayans refer to the holiday by its government denomination of family day. Easter week is referred to as tourism week.

Uruguay locator map

Uruguays switch to a legal marijuana market has not been without its hitches, however, notably the resistance of most pharmacists to act as outlets for the recreational marijuana (medical marijuana remains illegal in Uruguay).

Only 12 of the countrys 1,100 pharmacies have signed up so far to supply the 17,391 government-registered consumers served by the system, which explains the long queues outside. The low price and slim profit margin partly explain their reticence. But the main problem is that banks have threatened to close the accounts of pharmacies selling marijuana, said one chemist who sells marijuana in Montevideo, but who did not want to reveal his name for fear of such bank intervention.

Although sales of the drug have been legalised in various US states, they remain illegal at federal level, leading to a situation where most banks refuse to handle marijuana-related accounts anywhere in the world. Even now that sales in Uruguay have been completely legalised, the fear of running into trouble with the US federal authorities has become concrete.

The problem with the banks was an unforeseen hitch, says Eduardo Blasina, president of Montevideos cannabis museum, set in an old house in the artsy Palermo district of the capital city. But these bumps will get smoothed out eventually.

The potency of the original government-licensed marijuana also failed to satisfy consumers at the start. The government made a mistake because the first batch they released to the market in July had a potency level of only 2% THC, says Blasina.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis content. This is much lower than the levels found in legal recreational weed in US states like Colorado.

The government quickly got the message and has now upped the content to 9% THC, says the Montevideo pharmacist. A consumer himself, he adds: Ive tried it and I can assure you that it provides a most satisfactory experience.

Registered
Registered users queue outside a pharmacy to buy legal marijuana in Montevideo. Photograph: Andres Stapff/Reuters

For those who would rather not buy their legal weed at a pharmacy, Uruguays marijuana law allows consumers to plant their own at home (up to six plants) or join special privately run cannabis clubs with a maximum of 45 members who are allowed to withdraw 40g per month from the clubs crop.

The transformation of consumers has been astounding, says Blasina. Theyve gone from buying low-quality products from street dealers to becoming gourmet experts who compete with the crops at their clubs.

Confident that pharmacists will eventually find a way to work round the refusal of banks to handle their accounts, Blasina is more worried about the ban on selling legal marijuana to visitors from abroad in a country where tourism keeps growing, partly due to Uruguays beautiful beaches, but also because of its growing reputation as a liberal haven in South America.

Visitors arrive here hoping to enjoy freedom in one of the most liberal countries in the world, so they feel disappointed when they find out they cant buy legal marijuana, says Blasina. They end up buying it on the street, which contradicts the whole point of the law, which is to cut traffickers out of the business.

Blasina and others have started pressing the government for the passports of tourists to be stamped with a permit to purchase a small amount of marijuana during their stay. A record number of visitors will arrive this summer and what will we say to them? Sorry, you cant smoke? he says.

There are ways round the problem, however. The quality of the marijuana is so high that the 40 monthly grams permitted by the government far exceeds what I could smoke on my own, says one Uruguayan who works with foreigners travelling here. So I always have enough to share around with visitors.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontHow Uruguay made legal highs work
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Canadian marijuana advocate blasts hypocrisy of ex-police cashing in on cannabis

Former public servants and police officers are finding opportunities in the countrys fledgling industry including some who were once adamantly anti-pot

One of Canadas most prominent marijuana activists has taken aim at former police officers who have entered the countrys fledgling cannabis industry, saying it was hard to stomach that those who spent years sending people to jail for pot offences are now poised to profit as the country moves towards legalisation.

Its a mix of hypocrisy and pure profiteering, Jodie Emery told the Guardian. They made a living off tax dollars for trying to keep people out of the cannabis business and now theyre going to position themselves to cash in.

Her remarks come as legislation aimed at legalising recreational marijuana by 1 July 2018 was passed in the House of Commons. The bill will now head to the Senate, paving the way for Canada to become the first country in the G7 to fully legalise the drug.

Former public servants, politicians and law enforcement officers have gravitated towards the sector, which analysts say could eventually be worth somewhere between C$5bn and C$10bn annually.

The most controversial of these would-be entrepreneurs is Julian Fantino, a former Toronto police chief who once likened the decriminalisation of marijuana to legalising murder and, just two years ago, declared his complete opposition to legalisation.

Julian
Julian Fantino was opposed to legalisation but now is aiming to profit from the likely billion-dollar industry. Photograph: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Fantino recently announced that he would helm a company that connects patients to medical cannabis among other services. Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada.

A former Conservative MP, Fantino was also part of a government that sought to crackdown on marijuana offences, passing legislation stipulating mandatory jail time for those caught with six plants or more.

At the launch of his company, Aleafia, last month, Fantino waved off questions about his past views. Days gone by, we all had a certain attitude and certain perception of things being what they are and what they were, he told reporters.

Fantino said he had embarked on a fact-finding mission after being approached by Afghan war veterans who wanted access to marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and pain. [I] learned a lot about this whole space and medical marijuana and that to me was the conversion, if you will, to enable us to be more helpful to people who are not presently attaining the kind of results from their medication, which is usually opiates. Fantino did not respond to a request for an interview with the Guardian.

Emery described Fantinos message as deeply offensive. Im always happy to see our opponents admit that we were right by adopting our messaging and what weve been saying for so long, she said. But its hard to stomach when he isnt saying that hes sorry for arresting people for cannabis, hes not saying sorry for ruining lives and trying to prevent access to patients and veterans for all those years.

Emery who along with her husband Marc own the Cannabis Culture brand, which at one point included more than a dozen marijuana dispensaries across Canada was arrested in March on charges of drug trafficking and possession.

Her arrest came amid warnings by government and law enforcement officials that despite the legislation snaking its way through parliament, recreational marijuana remains illegal in the country.

The charges bar Emery, who has been released on bail but faces life in prison, from participating in the marijuana industry once it is legalised. So its sad to think that not only are we not allowed to compete against the cops getting in the pot business, but were still forever branded criminals, she said.

The government is currently mulling whether those convicted of minor drug offences should be allowed to work in the sector.

Emery said at least 11 high profile former police officers were now tied to the pot industry, including a former second-in-command with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had joined forces with Fantino to head Aleafia.

Others include a former West Vancouver police chief who has for years consulted for medical marijuana companies and a former deputy of the Toronto police who, after 38 years in law enforcement, began working with marijuana businesses in 2012. The Liberal governments plans for legalisation are being led by Bill Blair, another former Toronto police chief.

Emery described the situation as unfair. They not only enforced the law against people in a way thats recognised as racially biased, targeting poor, marginalised people but they actively opposed reform to the law, she said. Its like a creationist being put in charge of teaching evolution in university.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontCanadian marijuana advocate blasts hypocrisy of ex-police cashing in on cannabis
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