MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Uruguay is running out of weed.
The first country to approve nationwide recreational cannabis sales doesn’t have enough legal cannabis to go around. According to a government official, Uruguayans consumed about 20-25 metric tons of black market cannabis per year before legal sales began in 2017. The two licensed cultivators in the country can supply only about a third of that demand.
“The demand is greater than our productive capacity,” Diego Olivera, head of Uruguay’s National Drugs Council, told the Associated Press. “We have to address that challenge.”
One way the country may address the challenge is by licensing more growers. The number of farms isn’t the only issue, though. Eduardo Blasina, an agronomy engineer who holds a minority stake in the two licensed cultivation companies, also cited inexperience as a factor contributing to the shortage.
“It’s a complex crop, and the investors behind these companies didn’t come from a culture of cannabis,” he said. “You’d tell them ‘you need to buy 50 fans,’ something that’s very necessary in some instances, and they’d look at you as if you were an alien.”
There’s also a retail problem. Only 14 out of Uruguay’s 1,200 pharmacies have agreed to sell cannabis. Most of the countries 19 provinces don’t have a single dispensary. Some businesses fear distributing weed will make them targets for criminals. Many think the profit margin is too low to take the risk.
Analysts believe approximately 147,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 consume cannabis in Uruguay. But so far, only 35,000 have registered to purchase legally. Most of Uruguay’s 19 provinces do not have even one dispensary.
Quality is an issue, as well. Some cannabis users have complained the legal product doesn’t live up to what they can purchase on the street or grow at home. About 8,750 Uruguayans are licensed to harvest 480 grams each per year.
Despite the challenges, Olivera remains optimistic the system for legal sales will stabilize and the black market eventually will recede.
“It’s going to be a year in July since the sale in the pharmacies began,” he said. “We never thought about eliminating the black market in a short time; it was always a gradual thing… This doesn’t happen overnight.”