By Uki Goñi

The first country in the world to legalize marijuana sales was Uruguay, a tiny South American nation with a population of only 3.3 million wedged between Brazil and Argentina.

Uruguay fully legalized the production and sale of marijuana in December 2013 after a decade-long grassroots movement headed by mostly middle-class consumers managed to convince the government it was safer to legally sell weed rather than to allow drug dealers to run the market.

The system now in place grants licenses to private producers for large-scale cannabis farming and regulates its distribution at a controlled price of about one dollar a gram through pharmacies to registered consumers.

Private individuals are also allowed up to six plants at home. Larger amounts can be grown at “cannabis clubs” where individuals band together to produce marijuana in greater quantities as long as it is not for sale.

Legal sales through pharmacies are expected to begin in the second half of this year. Earlier this month the government opened the registry for pharmacists wishing to sell legal weed. These must install fingerprint recognition software to identify consumers as well as wall-mounted safety boxes to protect the maximum two kilos of marijuana each pharmacy will be allowed to maintain in stock.

Consumers must register with the government and will be allowed to purchase 10 grams per week.

Private consumption of drugs of any kind – including heroin and cocaine – was never actually banned by law in this atypically liberal South American nation, but the commercial production of marijuana was prohibited until the new law three years ago.

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Thumbnail: Flickr Abd allah Foteih