Uruguay Election Symbolizes Growing Cannabis Acceptance

Nov 19, 2019 | News

Johnny Green
Contributing Writer

In Uruguay’s past presidential elections, at least one of the candidates would wield strong anti-cannabis rhetoric to elicit support from voters. However, as the people of Uruguay prepare to determine their next president at the end of November, that is proving to no longer be the case. 

The race is between Daniel Martínez, the candidate for Uruguay’s centre-left Broad Front coalition, and Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative National Party. In previous elections, the conservative candidate would likely have opposed cannabis legalization and made re-instituting cannabis prohibition a significant part of their platform. 

As the conservative candidate, Lacalle Pou is indeed critical of cannabis legalization, but not in the way that one might expect, as human rights advocate Geoff Ramsey explains in a recent Vice article. “Lacalle Pou is critical of legalization — but only because of its emphasis on regulation,” said Ramsey. “In fact, he actually presented the first draft bill to legalize cannabis in Uruguay, but it was entirely laissez-faire, with an emphasis on limited state interference.”

Martínez, who supports maintaining the status quo and keeping adult-use cannabis legalization in place, had won the most votes in the first round of the election, which took place last month. Still, he did not receive the required majority of votes to be declared the winner. Fortunately for voters in Uruguay, they will not be forced to choose between a candidate that supports legalization versus one that does not.

All other policy positions aside, the vote in Uruguay’s presidential race will be a safe one from a cannabis advocate standpoint. This shift is symbolic of how mainstream cannabis has become in Uruguay and how successful legalization has been in the past six years.

A brief history of legalization in Uruguay

Uruguay is a true cannabis policy reform pioneer. The South American nation became the first country on earth to legalize cannabis for adult-use when it passed a nationwide legislative measure in 2013. In 2018, Canada, South Africa, and Georgia joined Uruguay, and other countries are considering moving in the same direction. 

Of these four countries, Uruguay and Canada have the most developed regulations.  

Even so, Uruguay’s legalization model differs from Canada’s in various ways, with arguably the most prominent being that cannabis is not legally available for purchase by tourists visiting Uruguay. The following are other provisions of Uruguay’s adult-use legalization model: 

  • The legal age for non-medical cannabis is 18 years or older
  • Legal purchases can be made at licensed pharmacies
  • Purchases are limited to 40 grams of cannabis flower per month
  • Cannabis can be acquired through a cannabis club
  • Adults can cultivate up to 6 plants at home
  • Adults have to register and choose whether they will be acquiring cannabis through a pharmacy, club, or cultivating it at home
  • Cannabis industry advertising is prohibited

As you can see, Uruguay’s model is geared less towards generating profits and is instead more about eliminating the illegal market. Leading up to legalization in Uruguay, cannabis opponents both abroad and within the country warned that the public policy change would be a disaster for the country. Thankfully, concerns have subsided enough that legal cannabis is currently not seen as a pressing political issue, as demonstrated by Uruguay’s upcoming election.

Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference and has been writing about cannabis culture since 2010.