Uruguay has sold nearly 11 million grams of weed since legal sales began in 2017, according to a new government report.
The tiny South American country actually legalized weed a full decade ago, long before Canada or most US states enacted their own adult-use laws. This pioneering law legalized both medical and recreational use simultaneously and also set up the framework for a unique state-controlled retail market that allows select pharmacies to sell legal weed to adults. But as is typical for adult-use sales rollouts, it took four full years for the country's first legal sales to go live.
Last month, Uruguay's Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) released a new report to celebrate the country's six-year cannabis anniversary. According to that report, the country's 37 licensed pharmacies sold 10,693,210 grams of weed between July 19th, 2017 – the day that legal sales actually began – and July 19th of this year.
These sales figures are a milestone for Uruguay, but the country's cannabis industry still pales in comparison to the US and Canada. That 10.7 million gram total only amounts to about 23,600 pounds of weed – less than some US adult-use states sell in a single week. For example, Michigan sold more than 182,000 pounds of recreational cannabis products in December 2021 alone. That's nearly 8 times as much weed as Uruguay has sold in six whole years.
So why are the country's sales so sluggish? As usual, the answer can be found in the massive swath of rules and regulations that government officials foist on the legal weed industry. Adults who want to buy legal weed at a pharmacy are required to register with the government before they can make a purchase. Legal sales are limited to 10 grams per week, and each individual must be fingerprinted in order to ensure that they aren't going over their cap.
People who are willing to endure this tedious process aren't even guaranteed access to weed, though. The country's three licensed cannabis producers are failing to meet even the limited demand for legal bud, resulting in regular supply shortages. Most pharmacies now require registered buyers to make appointments to ensure that product is on hand when they show up. Once inside, customers are only allowed to choose from three different strains of weed, which are all capped at 9% to 15% total THC content.
Uruguayans can buy higher-potency weed at cannabis clubs, but regulations make it difficult to actually join one of these clubs. The total number of clubs is capped at 249, and each club can only serve 15 to 45 members. The clubs have already maxed out this limited membership, so anyone who wishes to join one must first wait for a current member to drop out.
The country also allows adults to grow up to six plants at home, and many are choosing this simple option instead of dealing with the bureaucracy involved in legal sales. According to one recent report, only 27% of Uruguayans actually buy legal weed at pharmacies. IRCCA estimates that another 12% of cannabis consumers are smoking legal weed that friends have shared with them, but the vast majority of stoners still prefer to cop their bud on the black market.