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Uruguay to become first country to fully legalize marijuana

Uruguay is set to become the first country to allow recreational marijuana to be sold in pharmacies. It is the final step of a nearly four-year process to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.

Uruguay is set to be the first country in the world to fully allow the production, sale and consumption of marijuana when its pharmacies will be allowed to sell marijuana in July.

"Cannabis will be dispensed in pharmacies starting in the month of July," said head of the National Drugs Council Juan Andres Roballo.

Uruguay legalized the cultivation, distribution and consumption in 2013 under previous president Jose Mujica, but the rollout has been slow. The authorization for pharmacies to sell marijuana was initially expected by the end of 2014., but was delayed many times. 

Join the club

The country has stockpiled 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of marijuana so far. Roballo expects the amount of marijuana available to increase should there be enough demand. Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents who want to purchase marijuana from a pharmacy must be 18 or older and must enroll in a national registry of marijuana users before purchase.

They will be limited to purchasing 40 grams (1.41 oz) per month and 10 grams per week. When pharmacies first start selling marijuana, users can only purchase it in 5-gram containers at $1.30 (1.22 euros) per gram. Foreigners will not be allowed to purchase marijuana from pharmacies in Uruguay.

Supporters of the law say this will take money away from drug dealers and put it toward legal businesses and the state. Roballo said the marijuana sold in pharmacies will be as potent as what is found on the street.

"Buyers will have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming, and so the risks will diminish considerably," said Roballo.

The law also allows Uruguayans to grow their own marijuana at home or with marijuana clubs.

Changing drug laws

Numerous countries are eying revamped legislation about marijuana consumption as public attitudes towards the drug shift. 

Many states in the US are introducing legislation to legalize the production and sale of marijuana. While the production, consumption and sale of marijuana is still illegal at a federal level, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of recreational marijuana to various degrees. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and thus classified under "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

Germany has only allowed the legal consumption of marijuana for seriously ill patients, with the law going into effect in 2016. However, there are recent pushes in Berlin to work towards decriminalizing marijuana.

kbd/kl (AFP, Reuters)

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