Canada might be leading when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana among western economies, as the second nation to fully legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana.
That high honour belongs to the South American country of Uruguay with a population of 3.44 million — about ten times smaller than Canada’s.
Efforts to legalize marijuana began in the early 2010s as part of a larger policy to dry out the illicit trade and production of various drugs. Legalization happened in phases, according to the New York Times. Legalizing legislation passed in December 2013, but did not come into full effect until the summer of 2017.
Uruguayan users can purchase marijuana at local pharmacies, but face rules, which Times describes as “a bit of a buzzkill” as the national government produces and distributes all marijuana sold at pharmacies.
Users must officially register with the national government, which limits how much they can buy at prices below going black market rates. The government charges roughly $13 (US) for 10 grams, enough for about 15 joints. But only citizens and legal permanent residents can purchase pot and machines will scan the fingerprints of buyers at every purchase, which the government limits to prevent over-indulgence. Users can buy up to 40 grams a month per person.
The law also bars advertising and sets aside a share of commercial sales to pay for addiction treatment and public awareness campaigns about the risks of drug use.
Uruguayan nationals or permanent residents who want to grow their pot can grow up to six plants at home for their personal use, but must register themselves with the government. As of July 2017, 7,000 individuals have done so. Eligible individuals can also form ‘clubs’ with as many as 45 people to operate grow houses with 99 plants for members’ personal use.
Drug policy experts in Latin America and North America have looked to Uruguay, and some Canadian provinces have followed some of Uruguay’s policies.
All four Atlantic provinces, for example, are selling weed through their provincial liquor monopolies. Ontario has also monopolized the sale of recreational marijuana until April 1, 2019, when private stores will be able to open. British Columbia, meanwhile, has opted for a mixed private-public model. So far though, only one public store has opened for business.
Overall, the differences between Canada and Uruguay reflect larger differences in size and government structure. As a continental-sized federal state with multiple jurisdictions, Canada’s approach is bound to be more diverse. While democratic, prosperous, and politically stable, Uruguay is unitary state with one sphere of government responsible for a much smaller population living in a much smaller territory than Canada.