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Uruguay's marijuana pharmacies open for business

Uruguay has become the first country in the world to legalize the sale of cannabis in pharmacies without a prescription. Sixteen pharmacies will sell the herbal remedy from Wednesday, the government has said.

Uruguay's marijuana legalization law, which began in 2013, entered its final stage on Wednesday as the sale of the drug effectively became commercialized.

The move to allow pharmacies to sell marijuana over the counter without a receipt means that the entire cannabis market, from the plant to purchase, has become fully legalized.

The government maintains that the commercial sale and purchase of marijuana will curb drug-related crime.

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Uruguay: a land legalizes cannabis

Citizens in Uruguay will be allowed to purchase five-gram bags of weed for around $6.50 (5.60 euros), or the equivalent of about 1.12 euros per gram. Those looking to get high legally must be at least 18-years-old, reside in Uruguay and be registered with the country's cannabis control board. The strict requirements reflect the government's determination to prevent drug tourism.

Two private companies will oversee the harvesting of cannabis sold in pharmacies and receive about 90 cents of every gram purchased. The rest of the money will be split between the pharmacies and government-run drug prevention programs.

According to government figures, some 5,000 residents had registered to buy weed in pharmacies, the overwhelming majority of whom are men between the ages of 30 and 44, and who live in the capital of Montevideo

Uruguay's web of cannabis laws

In December 2013, Uruguay kicked off the legalization process under then-President Jose Murjica, when it began issuing state licenses permitting the private harvesting and consumption of marijuana. The new law also allowed up to 45 people to operate grow houses, or "clubs," with up to 99 plants for members' personal use.

The legalization progress was stalled, however, under Murjica's successor, Tabare Vazquez, who came to power in 2015. The government had sought to introduce the sale of marijuana in pharmacies earlier, although the president had appeared reluctant up to this point.

That is why Uruguay's commercial approach to marijuana also comes with a number of strict regulations. Private growers are allowed to harvest up to six cannabis plants, while "clubs" can have no more than 99 plants on their premises. Anyone found harvesting on private property without government permit can face up to 10 years in prison.

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dm/rt (AFP, AP, dpa)

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