Last week, Canada officially approved legalization of cannabis throughout the country. While it’s the first G7 nation to fully legalize cannabis, it’s the second in the world overall. The first? Uruguay, a country some of us struggle to pronounce, spell, or find on a map. (Don’t “ooooooh” me, y’all know it’s true.)
Uruguay is a nation of nearly 3.5 million, bordered by Argentina and Brazil, and it first legalized cannabis in 2013, with sales finally beginning in July 2017. Among the objectives for Uruguay’s legalization was to eliminate the robust unregulated market of weed coming in from nearby Paraguay. There isn’t an established medical cannabis program in Uruguay.
A Brookings Institute study from March 2018 gives us some numbers about Uruguay’s cannabis industry. Homegrowers may have up to six registered flowering plants, but the harvested bud may not exceed 480 grams annually. That’s just over a pound of bud per year. There are more than 8,200 registered homegrowers.
There are also 83 registered “cannabis club” grower collectives, with club memberships between the mandated 15 to 45 individuals. They may grow up to 99 plants, and give each club member no more than 480 grams each year. Excess bud has to be turned over to authorities. (How do you say “Ha! Get real!” in Spanish?)
Uruguay is considering setting up dispensaries, but for now, consumers can purchase up to 10 grams per week at state-licensed pharmacies. Pharmacies can opt out of participation. When the program started, 16 pharmacies participated, and they offered a very small menu of flower produced by only two commercially licensed growers (cue our growers shrieking). Also, the weed is not very strong, with the first varieties testing at 2 percent THC and 6 to 7 percent CBD, although by late 2017 that had been upgraded to 9 percent THC and 3 percent CBD.
There are 22,077 registered Uruguayan consumers, and five-gram containers go for approximately $7, or about $1.40 per gram. Uruguay’s median income is $2,000 USD, so it’s not a screaming bargain.
Meanwhile, to our north, Canada has decided to end 90 years of prohibition. The nation of more than 36 million seeks not only to develop a domestic recreational market but to expand sales to the medical cannabis markets overseas. In 2017, Canada exported 522 kilograms (more than 1,150 pounds) to Germany, the Czech Republic, Israel, and Australia, an increase of more than tenfold from 2016.
Unlike Uruguay, Canada has a medical program, which has been growing by around 10 percent each month, with more than 200,000 registered. In 2017, a total of $4.3 billion USD was spent by Canadians on cannabis—medical or otherwise—which was attributed to around 13 percent of the population, each pot consumer averaging a surprisingly high $875 USD each year.
Recreational sales will begin on October 17, and those aged 18 or older (19 in some provinces) may purchase, possess in public, and share up to 30 grams of flower. How does that translate to quantities of products like edibles and concentrates? The program equates one gram of dried, cured flower to five grams of fresh flower, 15 grams of edibles, 70 grams of liquids, .25 grams of solid or liquid concentrates, or a single cannabis seed. Any residence can grow four plants.
The program is meant to reduce Canada’s unregulated market (which some have placed at more than $5 billion each year), and sales are projected to be $4.3 billion USD in the first year.
It’ll be taxed at one Canadian dollar per gram or 10 percent of the total purchase, whichever is greater. Seventy-five percent of that revenue will remain with the province, with the other 25 percent going to the country’s federal government. One study shows the Canadian government could take in more than $3.75 billion USD a year in tax revenue, with the feds’ share going to address public health and addiction issues.
One wonders if the United States could someday take similar steps. Lately, it seems we’ve been too busy terrorizing families by stealing and caging their children to take the time to explore what nationwide legalization of cannabis in the United States might look like. Priorities, people.
For now, it looks like America will be following Canada’s lead in providing safe access of cannabis to its citizens, undertaking critically needed cannabis research, and exploring the economic possibilities of cannabis tourism and social consumption.