BARRIO – Five years after Uruguayan pharmacies began selling cannabis for recreational use, the law has gained greater public support and the worst fears about “gangs of zombies” have been unfounded. There were no gangs that attacked pharmacies, as some predicted. Fears that Brazilians and Argentines would travel in droves to Uruguay to buy cannabis and send consumption rates soaring also were unfounded.
Long lines formed when marijuana sales at pharmacies began on July 19, 2017, three-and-a-half years after Uruguay became the first country in the modern era to legalize cannabis.
But now an atmosphere of total normalcy is apparent at the Antartida pharmacy in Montevideo, one of the 16 outlets that were initially authorized to sell cannabis.
In fact, the only difference visible between marijuana sales and transactions involving standard medications is that buyers must provide a fingerprint impression.
One of the pharmacist said, “When we applied (for authorization to sell cannabis), we had some fears. It was something totally new. A lot of pharmacies were against it. Fears about security, that the society, the customers, would reject it. None of that happened.”
But pharmacies came under pressure from banks after cannabis money began entering their accounts, Tastas said, pointing out that United States banks regard those proceeds as illegal and their Uruguayan counterparts do not want to run afoul of finance laws related to controlled substances.
“What we’re trying to do is have existing consumers move from illegality to other supply sources,” he added.
Separately, he said efforts are being made to convince more pharmacies to sell cannabis with a view to at least doubling the current total of 28 authorized outlets.
And despite the snags along the way, one undeniable area of progress over the past five years has been public acceptance for the pioneering law, with public approval of recreational cannabis sales having climbed from 24 percent in 2012 to 48 percent at present.