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Uruguay Is Getting High as Officials Try to Snuff Out Tobacco

While the South American country passed laws to regulate the production of weed, officials are moving forward with stricter tobacco rules.
Photo via AP

Thanks to Uruguay’s recently approved legal marijuana regulations, access to pot will soon be as easy as visiting a corner pharmacy but Uruguayans may now face problems buying tobacco.

While the South American country passed laws to regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana, officials are moving forward with stricter regulations on the marketing of tobacco products.

On May 6, the Uruguayan Senate passed a law prohibiting the display of tobacco products in order to decrease consumer’s exposure. That same day, Uruguay President José Mújica, established a law to regulate the consumption of marijuana.


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These new regulations cover its possible cultivation, sale, and purchase, as well as the existence of cannabis clubs. It specifies that every resident can cultivate up to six plants, with which they will be allowed to produce up to 490 grams a year. But if you are not a citizen or a permanent resident you will not be able to reap the benefits this new law sows.

By late November or early December residents will be able to purchase marijuana in pharmacies, according to Diego Canepa, a presidential spokesperson.

So while Uruguayans celebrate, tobacco companies will be challenging the new proposed restrictions on their product’s publicity and display.

The initiative has been planned for several years by the Minister of Health, and could be a nail in the coffin for the country’s tobacco industry, which has been impacted by a series of policies that in 2010 led the tobacco giant Philip Morris to sue the government of Uruguay for alleged free-trade violations.

The World Bank Tribunal agreed to hear their arguments in July 2013.

Among the legislation that Philip Morris contests is the regulation stating that health warnings should cover 80 percent of the product’s packaging, something that the Uruguayan government has seen as a victory that has reduced tobacco consumption since these policies were initiated in 2009.


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Philip Morris said these policies could boost the black market sale of cigarettes, which was one out of every four tobacco products sold in Uruguay in 2009, according to statistics provided by the company’s website, citing the American Cancer Society.

Abolishing the black market is just the argument that President Mújica has promoted internationally in support of the regulation of the Uruguayan marijuana industry.

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The new policies of tobacco and marijuana regulation in Uruguay have received fairly positive reception, except for concerns about the promoted use of marijuana as voiced by the executive secretary of the Inter–American Drug Abuse Control Commission, Paul Simons, who recently visited the country.

“The tobacco debate in Uruguay has seen certain results. I think it is the only country in the world that has had success in these areas, but there is also United States interest in systemic commercialization. There is lots of propaganda, with a huge effort to promote consumption, and that too is very worrying from a health perspective,” Simons said during a meeting organized by Uruguay’s National Conference on Drug Policy.

As Phillip Morris awaits a resolution from the World Bank Tribunal in 2015, many residents will be practicing their pot cultivation skills leading into November.

“This is something that has been fought for quite a bit, it has made the left­–leaning youth very happy. It is a Mújica invention — like a test. It hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world and one true thing is that everything is state–owned: water, electricity and telephone services. And the fact that marijuana is also to be regulated by the state makes a lot of sense in terms of Uruguayan political customs. Uruguayans are very happy,” a young 20–something Uruguayan who asked to be called “Diana,” told VICE News.

However, there is a question of how exactly the country plans to control the newly allowed substance.

“There is enormous uncertainty surrounding how this will all come about," Diana said. "The only thing that is really certain is that people are smoking joints at 10AM with incredible tranquility! All of Montevideo smells like pot. My neighbor already has eight plants.”