Pharmacies in Uruguay have become the first in the world to start legally selling marijuana
In 2013, Uruguay passed legislation that would eventually legalise the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.
The legislation has been introduced in stages, beginning with permitting registered users to grow up to six plants for personal use. The New York Times reports that about 7000 people have done so, and that some users were allowed to club together to grow plants for the use of club members.
This week, pharmacies have begun distribution of the drug, which is available to Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents only, who need to sign up to a database before they can buy it.
According to the BBC, this restriction is aimed at preventing “marijuana tourism”.
In 2014, the Pharmaceutical Journal reported that there was considerable opposition amongst pharmacy stakeholders to the legislation.
Community pharmacy owners had offered to sell marijuana through their stores, stating that pharmacy is an ideal channel to sell the drug because it has an existing framework on which to hang the marijuana user database.
But the Association of Chemistry and Pharmacy of Urugua – the country’s professional body – said this would be unethical and damaging to the profession’s reputation. Pharmacists around the world were urged to support their campaign against the new legislation.
By 2016, pharmacists were still expressing concern, worried that their pharmacies would be targeted by criminals; others said they saw marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs and an addiction risk.
Uruguayans can choose between two varieties of the drug – known as Alpha 1 and Beta 1 – both of which contain relatively low amounts of Tetrahidrocannabinol at 2%.
It is priced at below black market rates, at 187 Uruguayan pesos (AUD$8.23) for five grams. All marijuana comes from state-supervised crops and advertising is banned.
Alejandro Antalich, the vice president of the Center of Pharmacies in Uruguay, told the New York Times that “these are measures designed to help people who are already users without encouraging others who don’t consume”.
“If this works as planned, other countries could adopt it as a model,” he suggested.
Commenting on the legislation earlier in the year, and calling on governments to tax and regulate peronal cannabis use, Sex Party leader Fiona Patten told the AJP that community pharmacy was “ideally suited” to dispensing recreational marijuana.
“So if you consider the licensing that community chemists go through already, and their fit and proper person tests, their ability to regulate restricted products… then they would be ideally suited for a regulated distribution of cannabis for personal use.
“As we saw in Uruguay, that was the obvious answer.”
It’s not the first time stakeholders have suggested recreational drugs be dispensed in pharmacies: in 2015 a Melbourne pharmacist said regulating and dispensing ecstasy could help with harm minimisation measures.
At the time, then PSA president Joe Demarte said community pharmacy would be a “poor fit” for such an initiative.