Leaders from the world’s first country to offer legal cannabis nationwide say they want to sell the plant to visitors, too. But officials in Uruguay don’t want the South American country to become a tourism hub for marijuana. Instead, they want to eradicate tens of thousands of underground pot sales that happen on the streets each year.
Daniel Radio, secretary general of Uruguay’s National Drugs Board told Bloomberg News that President Luis Lacalle Pou is considering new legislation to lay framework for licensed pharmacies to charge foreign visitors higher prices on cannabis than Uruguayan nationals.
The proceeds, Radio said, would help bolster drug rehabilitation programs in the country.
The legalized adult-use marijuana in 2013 and allows citizens 18 and older who join a government registry to grow their own cannabis. They can also buy up to 40 grams per month at government-licensed marijuana pharmacies.
A new law, according to Uruguayan Tourism Minister Tabaré Viera, could go into effect as early as 2022. In the meantime, Viera and Lacalle Pou hope to build public support for the initiative and encourage the country’s legislature to pass it.
Lacalle Pou could also move forward via executive action, but the move would be a last resort and happen only if the legislature didn’t pass the law first.
Former Uruguayan president José Mujica legalized the plant back in 2013 as an experiment to serve the nation’s high percentage of cannabis users. The goal was to make cannabis widely available and curb illegal drug trafficking.
Eight years later, only a few dozen pharmacies across the country sell the plant. More than half of illegal cannabis sales in Uruguay, a country of 3.5 million residents, still happen on the street, according to the U.S.-based Wilson Center.
The country’s tourism industry is robust, as visitors from neighboring Argentina and Brazil rush to Uruguay’s beaches during the southern hemisphere’s summer months, which run from December through February. The country welcomes about 3.7 million foreign tourists each year and raises $1.7 billion from their expenses.
The pandemic has brought tourism to a halt, but Uruguay will reopen its borders to all fully vaccinated visitors on November 1. It’s unlikely – but not impossible – that the new marijuana tourism proposal will pass in time for the upcoming season, officials said. At the latest, government leaders hope to have it passed into law by next year.