Legal marijuana in Uruguay won’t hit the market until sometime next year due to "practical difficulties,” the president of the Southern Cone nation said in a recent interview.
Speaking to the French news agency Agence France-Presse, President José Mujica said that if the implementation law was rushed the government-grown pot could end up on the illegal market. Regulation was expected by the end of this year.
"If we want to get this right we are going to have to do it slowly," Mujica said amid criticism from the United Nations over the public health risk. "We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount."
Last December, Uruguay became the first country to create a national marketplace for legal marijuana, with the government regulating the production, sales and use of pot.
"Today is an historic day. Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example," Sen. Constanza Moreira, a member of the governing Broad Front coalition, said as the bill passed with 16 votes in favor and 13 against. Congress' lower house approved the measure in late July.
The groundbreaking legislation to create a government-run marijuana industry was opposed by two-thirds Uruguayans, polls at the time indicated.
Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who spent years in jail as a younger man while others experimented with marijuana, went ahead with the legislation anyway. He argued the global drug war is a failure and said bureaucrats can do a better job of containing addictions and beating organized crime than police, soldiers and prison guards.
Former Health Minister Alfredo Solari, a Colorado Party senator, worried the law will make it easier for children and adolescents to get their hands on pot. "The effects of this policy on public health will be terrible," he said.
The government got help from a national TV campaign and other lobbying efforts supported by billionaire currency speculator and philanthropist George Soros and his Open Society Foundation and Drug Policy Alliance. Last September, Mujica met with Soros and billionaire David Rockefeller in New York to explain his legal-market plan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.