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Uruguay Planning to Open Cannabis Tourism Market

Uruguay cannabis tourism industry
Written by Sarah Friedman

Uruguay was the first country in modern times to take the plunge and legalize recreational cannabis, which it did back in 2013. Now, Uruguay is looking to up the ante with plans to open a cannabis tourism market to bolster the industry further.

Uruguay is looking to step up its recreational cannabis legalization by opening a cannabis tourism market. Pretty cool, huh? The bigger the industry gets, the more products available to consumers, and this means more great additions like delta-8 THC, THCA, and CBN, and more places to use them. The world of weed is getting wider, and you can benefit. Check out our array of deals for delta-8 THC along with many other compounds, such as  delta 10 THCVTHC-OHHC and even hemp-derived delta-9 THC. Subscribe below and take advantage of the growing list of available products:

Liberalism in Uruguay

Uruguay was the first country to legalize the use of recreational cannabis, creating the world’s first adult-use market in 2013. This happened when then-President Jose Mujica officially signed legislation in December of that year. Prior to this time, Uruguay was still one of the more liberal countries when it came to drug laws, having decriminalized all drugs back in 1974 for personal use.

When that law was enacted (law 14.294), it did not specify how much accounted for personal use – called a ‘minimum quantity’, and judges were left to make that assessment on a case-by-case basis. Growing, selling, and any sort of trafficking crime, were still illegal at that time. In 1998 the law was updated with a change in language from ‘minimum quantity’ which it had been since 1974, to ‘reasonable quantity’, a similarly non-specific term for how much a person can possess without criminal penalties. This law also reduced the consequences for offenders caught growing and selling cannabis illegally.

It’s probably good to point out that Uruguay has consistently been more liberal than other South American countries, which might explain how it got to legalization, when no one else had. Latin America is generally seen as a very Christian area, where there is sometimes a large connection between church and state. In the case of Uruguay, that connection was severed back in 1918. Similarly, women were given the right to vote as early as 1932. Uruguay even holds the designation of being one of only three countries in Latin America to allow abortion, first decriminalizing it in 2008, and then legalizing it without question in the first trimester, in 2012. That same year, the country voted in same sex marriage, with a full legalization in 2013.

liberalism in Uruguay

Cannabis legalization in Uruguay

As stated, in 2013, Uruguay broke with the rest of the world and formally legalized recreational cannabis. As per the usual, the legalization didn’t come with the framework for regulation, which took another few years, and was released in 2017. Uruguay is the only legalized location thus far to institute a government-run system rather than a free market, meaning the government is in control of all distribution and pricing.

Uruguay’s cannabis law stipulates the following: citizens are allowed to grow up to six plants every year, or up to 480 grams, whichever comes first. Social clubs can be formed with 15-45 members wherein 99 plants can be grown. In order to buy cannabis from the government, a citizen must register first, and cannabis is only sold through licensed pharmacies. Participants registered in the system can buy up to 40 grams a month, and there is no promotion or advertising allowed.

Uruguay’s main reason for legalizing marijuana was to combat the illegal drug trade. Latin America is known for its drug trafficking and drug violence, and Uruguay wanted to cut into the cannabis black market, by diverting it to a legal one. In the words of President Mujica at the time the idea was initially brought up, “The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves.” Even decriminalization proved a complicated idea, as allowing the use of something for which there is no legal way to obtain it, means the encouragement of a black market.

Whereas Canada, and many US states, legalized for similar reasons, no other legalized location has instituted a government-run model, and in no other case has the price of cannabis been kept so low. As of early 2020, the price for a gram was about $1.23 USD, far less than anywhere else. To be clear, users aren’t given a large array of strains to choose from, and none of them are high-THC. Even so, by early 2020, approximately 41,000 users were registered, there were over 8,000 home-growers, 158 cannabis clubs had popped up with a combined total of about 5,000 members, and users have three clear legal avenues to obtain cannabis: pharmacies, self-cultivation, and cannabis clubs. According to 2020 statistics, May 2020 saw the sale of approximately 87,000 grams, and April 2020 had sales of nearly 100,000 grams.

Uruguay and a new plan for a cannabis tourism market

Uruguay wants to further control the issue of the black market in the country, and has proposed a way to do both that, and to bolster the cannabis industry further. The new plan for Uruguay is to open a cannabis tourism market, to keep visitors coming into the country from buying black market weed. Uruguay has done a lot to limit the black market, but gangs still prevail, and the black market still claimed as much as 89% of cannabis business in 2020. Plus, the country has yet to reach $10 million USD in exports, partly challenged by a growing international market with tons of competition.

To be fair, exports did more than double by 2020, to hit $7.5 million, but this is far less than the hoped for hundreds of millions which never materialized (and which was a bit unrealistic to begin with.) According to secretary general of the National Drugs Board, Daniel Radio, “I think there was excessive optimism regarding the possibilities of growth, because we aren’t playing alone here.” He went on to say, “Some investment is showing up in manufacturing and value-added processes. That has to be our bet, because it’s the only way Uruguay can be competitive.”

cannabis in Uruguay

Current President Luis Lacalle Pou and administration may even release a plan this year in order to start building support for such an initiative. And while the country is happy to provide cannabis to tourists, it’s primary aim is to keep those tourists from the black market. Uruguay’s population is only about 3.5 million, so the inclusion of foreigners could greatly increase the base of potential customers. Argentinians and Brazilians make up a large part of the tourist market each year. This has been impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, however, Uruguay expects to open its borders to vaccinated travelers by November 1st.

According to Deputy Tourism Minister Remo Monzeglio, this might come with a rise in prices for tourists, with proceeds going to fund drug treatment programs. Realistically, raising prices has proven to be a pitfall of the industry, so whether Uruguay, which has avoided that pitfall thus far, will actually do this, remains to be seen.

In terms of how all this is expected to be done, Monzeglio continued that a presidential decree would be a faster way to get tourists registered and buying at pharmacies. In order to formally drop the registering requirement, new legislation would have to be written.

Medical cannabis tourism

Uruguay isn’t the only country interested in a cannabis tourism market, in fact, it’s becoming all the rage. For years, Amsterdam held the title for the biggest cannabis tourism destination, but there are plenty of others, from Christiana in Copenhagen, Denmark, to Spain with its selection of cannabis clubs. Plenty of countries are also using the medical aspect to open medical cannabis tourism markets.

Last year, Thailand became the first Asian country to legalize medical cannabis, and though the country doesn’t seem to have any immediate intentions to go recreational, it is trying to build a medical cannabis tourism industry. As per Marut Jirasrattasiri, the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine Director, “Thailand is already a tourist destination for many foreigners, and marijuana will be another attraction for the country and for medical tourists.” In order to make this happen, draft legislation was created to allow foreigners access to Thai medical cannabis clinics, and possibly allow medical patients to bring their own cannabis with them.

The US Virgin Islands, also has its eye on grabbing the medical cannabis tourism market. Medical cannabis was made legal in the Virgin Islands in 2019, with provisions in the bill which allow for patients coming from locations with legalized cannabis, to access care in the Virgin Islands for a fee. The same bill also made it open to patients unable to access cannabis medicine in their home country, to enter treatment in an in-house cannabis treatment program.

medical marijuana tourism

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. was even looking to take it one step further, pushing an amendment for cannabis legalization, which didn’t use the word ‘recreational’, but instead called it ‘non-prescribed’. This amendment would have allowed the use of this ‘non-prescribed’ cannabis all throughout the Island. The bill didn’t make it through legislative sessions, as it was introduced last minute, but chances are it will come up again.

Jamaica is yet another country capitalizing on medical cannabis tourism. In Jamaica, cannabis was decriminalized in the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2015, which makes it so that up to two ounces incurs no criminal record, gives the ability for a person to grow up to five plants, opens up cannabis use for religious purposes, and allows for tourists to be eligible for cannabis permits so long as they already hold a prescription for medical cannabis.

The last part is globally inclusive, and shows the beginning of a push for a medical cannabis tourism market, along with a religious cannabis tourism market, helped along by Rastafari culture, which embraces cannabis. Jamaica is one of the first countries to provide a religious legalization, and that legalization extends to using cannabis freely in religious environments. Also a major point of interest for tourists, with the two combining to form a great basis for cannabis tourism in general.


Will Uruguay really embrace a new cannabis tourism market? Considering the country has already shown its willing to break with international and regional code when it comes to many subjects, and as it has already positioned itself as a trailblazer in cannabis legalization, it’s looking pretty promising. And who would expect less from the country that started it all, then to have a new innovative way to grow its industry?

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.