Friday, August 29, 2014

Uruguay Slowly Rolling Out its Marijuana Law

On Thursday, the day after the Uruguayan government began receiving the first applications to legally grow up to six cannabis plants per household, officials provided an important update on the status of marijuana regulation in the country. While the law is slowly coming into effect, it looks almost certain that it won’t be in full swing until sometime in early 2015.

Despite initial reports that just 10 prospective home-growers had registered with the designated post offices around the country -- which were based on a statement released only three hours after the registry’s launch -- this number has grown since then.

As Uruguayan AP correspondent Leonardo Haberkorn reports, the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) announced yesterday that after two days, a total of 54 had signed up. Of these, 21 were based in the capital city of Montevideo, and 33 live throughout the country’s interior. The IRCCA has said it will review all applications and issue the first legal home-cultivation licenses within a period of 30 days.

The creation of the home-growers’ registry comes after the launch of the first “marijuana membership clubs,” which under the law can have a maximum of 45 members and grow up to 99 plants. While the clubs have not yet been licensed to grow by the IRCCA, at least four have taken the first step of registering as civil associations with the Ministry of Culture.

Home-growing and the membership clubs are two of the three methods of accessing the drug legally under Uruguay’s new law. The third involves purchasing commercially-produced cannabis, which is making progress as well. In July, the government began a bidding process for those interested in serving as the two to five commercial growers that officials believe are necessary to satisfy domestic demand for cannabis.

While the AP reports that an administration official told reporters “more than 20 and less than 25” companies had applied to supply the drug to Uruguayan pharmacies, El Pais has more precise details on the bidding process.  Yesterday, the IRCCA held a gathering of some 40 representatives of the bidders, and the Montevideo-based paper obtained a head count of sorts, even speaking with some of the prospective foreign and local investors.

The institute reportedly received proposals from 22 companies, of which 8 are Uruguayan, 10 are foreign (including U.S. and Canadian firms) and 4 are of mixed nationality. In two weeks’ time this number will be whittled down to 20, from which a total of five companies will obtain cultivation licenses.

According to El Pais, the IRCCA won’t complete the selection process for at least a month and a half. This means cultivation won’t begin until around November, at the earliest. Taking into account time needed for growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping the product to sales points, it is then safe to assume that President Jose Mujica is correct in estimating that the drug won’t be available in pharmacies before next year.

Ultimately it seems officials are in no rush, and are more concerned with working out the kinks of marijuana regulation than starting as fast as possible. As IRCCA head Augusto Vitale told El Pais, “This is a unique model in the world. This type of license is unprecedented.” Nevertheless, Vitale claimed that the first experiment with commercial cultivation will follow three main guidelines. According to him: “We know there will be continuous production [via greenhouses]. We know that there must be between one and two tons produced. And we know that setting the price shall be a crucial variable, and that it will compete with the illegal market.”  

News Briefs
  • To follow up on yesterday’s look at the race for OAS Secretary General, Uruguayan weekly Busqueda (article behind a paywall, unfortunately), known as the leading political chronicler in the country, claims that diplomatic sources in Canada, the United States, and Brazil have all conveyed their approval of Foreign Minister Luis Almagro’s bid for OAS leader.
  • On Thursday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling paving the way for same-sex couples to legally adopt children, but as El Espectador reports it applies only in cases where one of the partners is the child’s biological parent. Despite the ruling’s shortcomings, LGBT rights advocates contacted by La Silla Vacia claim that the vast majority of same-sex couples seeking to have children opt to do so via artificial insemination rather than adopting an unrelated child, which means that the decision is still an important practical victory for Colombia’s gay and lesbian communities.
  • Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera has raised pressure on the federal government to raise the country’s minimum wage, which as the Wall Street Journal notes ranks behind only Haiti in the Americas. Yesterday, Mancera presented a proposal to lift the minimum daily wage from 67.3 pesos to between 80 and 87 pesos (or $6.10 to $6.60, says McClatchy’s Tim Johnson), and move that has significant support among lawmakers of the PAN and PRI as well.
  • While there has been a flurry of reporting recently -- See Forbes or Bloomberg -- on Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva’s growing backing among the financial class, she also appears committed to her environmentalist roots. O Globo has obtained a copy of her campaign platform, to be released at an event today in São Paulo, in which she commits to decreasing the country’s reliance on Brazil’s oil industry in favor of more renewable energy sources like biofuel, solar and wind power.
  • Brazilian news site Agencia Publica has an investigation into the Brazilian military dictatorship’s use of napalm against guerrillas during the 1970s, which was confirmed in documents released by the country’s National Truth Commission last year. The news site notes that craters from the bomb blasts where they were deployed can still be found, as well as shells and other remnants of the bombs themselves.
  • The Associated Press has a useful update on the situation in the Dominican Republic for individuals of Haitian descent, which has improved little since lawmakers passed a law in May meant to resolve the legal status of thousands who were stripped of their citizenship. According to the AP, some 115,000 have applied for residency and work permits under the law, but authorities say just 275 meet its criteria.
  • The AP also has a look at Ecuador’s plans to launch the first government-backed digital currency. While authorities have not yet given it a name or provide technical details, the currency is expected to start circulating in December and is reportedly aimed at helping those Ecuadoreans who are too poor to access formal banking.
  • After mathematician Artur Avila became the first Brazilian to win the prestigious Fields Medal earlier this month, The New York Times features a look at the research center where he works, Rio de Janeiro’s National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics. As the NYT notes, it has become a world-renowned education center, “a hidden gem in a country with few world-renowned educational institutions.”
  • While Haiti’s coffee industry has enjoyed a boom in recent years, a new report by Catholic Relief Services has found that global climate change will put it at risk. As the Miami Herald reports, the study found that over the next 40 years the amount of land suitable for coffee cultivation will likely decline.