Marijuana business flourishes in Uruguay


Smoking pot in Montevido

Working at a decidedly un-slackerly pace, employees are racing to get ready for the opening of the latest marijuana boutique to sprout up in pot-friendly Uruguay.

About 20 such stores have opened for business in Montevideo, the capital, in the past year and a half, since Uruguay became the first country in the world to not only legalize marijuana but create a regulated market for it.

“This is just the beginning. The market is wide open to everyone,” said 34-year-old Marcelo Cabrera, one of the business partners behind the latest grow shop, Tu Jardin (Your Garden).

The landmark marijuana law passed in December 2013 under former president Jose Mujica, a folksy iconoclast known for living in a run-down farmhouse and giving most of his salary to charity.

Under the law, Uruguayan citizens and residents can buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of weed a month from pharmacies, grow it themselves at home or join cannabis clubs where members pitch in to garden the plants together.

Before the legislation took effect in April last year, Juan Vaz planted marijuana illegally. Today he is paid to do it and manages a local growers’ club.

“Many people don’t buy on the black market anymore. They plant at home or in a cannabis club. So part of the money that went to drug trafficking before is now going to the community, creating new jobs,” he said.

– Weed of the year –

The law still leaves some gray areas.

One of them is the selling of seeds — not prohibited, but not regulated either.

That has resulted in a sort of legal limbo.

“You can import them if they were not illegally exported elsewhere,” said Laura Blanco, president of the Cannabis Studies Association (AECU).

Pharmacy sales, the most controversial part of the law, have yet to begin — and it is unclear whether they will any time soon under the new president, Tabare Vazquez, a cancer doctor who has openly criticized the policy.

But that just means more business for the grow shops.

There are currently some 20,000 home growers in Uruguay, and 15 cannabis clubs authorized to cultivate up to 99 plants each, according to the AECU.

“Business is booming. Tourists come looking for souvenirs, and locals come to buy everything you need to grow it and smoke it,” said another young weed entrepreneur, 29-year-old Enrique Tubino, co-founder of marijuana boutique Yuyo Brothers.

The first grow shop, Urugrow, has seen a keen pack of competitors emerge.

Co-owner Manuel Varel, 26, says his biggest investment has been in advertising, “to maintain our market presence while competition increases.”

Stores like Yuyo Brothers, which started out selling marijuana paraphernalia in 2002, have dived into the do-it-yourself marijuana gardening business, too.

“Legalization has turned us into farmers,” joked a comedian at the Cannabis Cup, a competition for the best marijuana of the year, which drew 1,200 attendees on July 19.

Marijuana plant

– Chasing green gold –

The young entrepreneurs of the grow shop boom are reluctant to talk sales numbers or profits.

“The margins are small,” admitted Cabrera of Your Garden.

Beyond small business, the most ambitious investors are researching how to take advantage of the non-psychotropic elements of hemp, useful for producing biofuels, textiles, food and cosmetics.

Brazilian entrepreneur Fabio Bastos expects his first harvest in January 2016 and the 40 hectares (100 acres) he planted — half for fiber production, half for research on medicinal uses of hemp — have already sold.

Sedina, his company, was born one year ago with an investment of $150,000 and is now valued at $5 million, said Bastos.

He already exports hemp to China and Canada, and hopes to expand into his native Brazil.

“Everyone wants hemp, everyone wants cannabis products. We are witnessing the birth of a global weed market,” he said.

View Comments (4)

  • Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called "Addiction Specialists" who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, - Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don't have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!

    • There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize marijuana nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

      The prohibitionist view on marijuana is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

      Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

      Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of marijuana prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

      With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what's left for a marijuana prohibitionist to do?

      Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that's approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

      Legalize Nationwide!...and Support All Marijuana Legalization Efforts!

      • The "War on Marijuana" has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful "War on Drugs" that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

        Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending "War on Marijuana", lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It's a no brainer.

        The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

        Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

        Even The President of the United States has used marijuana. Has it hurt his chances at succeeding in life? If he had gotten caught by the police during his college years, he may have very well still been in prison today! Beyond that, he would then be fortunate to even be able to find a minimum wage job that would consider hiring him with a permanent criminal record. Let's end this hypocrisy now!

        The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana "crimes" because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

        Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that's approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

        Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

        • In the prohibitionist's world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are "stoners" and "dopers" that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

          In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about "saving us all" from the "evils" of marijuana use.

          Who are they to tell us we can't choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

          People who use marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who "follow the law" also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it's current prohibition of course) .

          Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make us out to be. We are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

          Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

          Although that doesn't mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like "dopers" and "stoners" about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

          To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it's an All American pastime.

          There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

          So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can't enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

          We've worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don't appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

          Has a marijuana user ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force us not to either.

          Don't try to impose your morality and "clean living" upon all of us with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won't think you're such prohibitionist hypocrites.

          Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!