Why Cannabis Users Prefer the Black Market to Legal Marijuana in Uruguay

Marijuana legalization is a slow and tedious process, with no clear recipe for success. A perfect example of this is Uruguay, the first country in the world to legalize marijuana. While legal marijuana was established in 2013, the country still has a thriving black market that has adapted to and survived legalization.

According to a study conducted by a local institute that regulates cannabis, only 27% of Uruguayan consumers buy their drugs legally.

Montevideo (AFP) has quotes from several Uruguay-based marijuana growers and users, who explained that despite legalization, government-regulated marijuana still presents many problems that the majority of consumers prefer to avoid.

There are three legal avenues for consumers to purchase marijuana: at pharmacies, through home cultivation for personal use, and by belonging to a cannabis breeding club. Although the latter method is the most appealing to people, offering more variety, these clubs have long queues and are limited by the number of members they can have.

Uruguayan black market buyers say marijuana products in the country are limited and it’s easier to get what you want on the black market, even if the legal route results in cheaper products. Purchasing legal products requires people to make appointments. Via the black market, buyers can simply contact their dealer and buy whatever they want.

Photo by Jose Antonio Luque Olmedo/Getty Images

The legalization of marijuana has brought about different factors. It dealt a blow to the drug trade, reducing it considerably, and eliminated the danger associated with the black market. “I don’t see it as black market,” said a 28-year-old black market shopper. “There are good prices for what is being sold and you don’t feel like you are profiting from the drug trade.”

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She explains that there is always “a friend or acquaintance who passes you a contact of someone who has flowers and who sells them”.

Another contributing factor is the fact that legal marijuana available in pharmacies across Uruguay is limited to 10% THC. Most power users want more potent products or are looking for other strains that aren’t offered legally.

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To combat this, the Uruguayan considered increasing THC limits in his pharmacies and providing users with a greater variety of products. Still, marijuana is in a complicated position right now. While introduced by a leftist government when José Mujica was president, Uruguay now has a center-right president whose administration does not push for the advancement of drugs.

“I don’t believe the state is growing and selling marijuana,” President Luis Lacalle Pou told BCC. “I believe in people, cannabis clubs or whatever we have, that they produce their own marijuana and they can have their own marijuana smoking circles.”

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