After a welcome start to their pharmacy-based national cannabis retailing system on 19 July 2017, Uruguay was soon hit by a serious threat from its US banking partners. The US banks warned Banco de La República Oriental del Uruguay (BROU, the main bank and key player in the banking system of the small South American nation) that they would no longer issue their banks with US dollars unless the BROU banks closed all the accounts held by pharmacies that sold cannabis.
The Center of Pharmacies of Uruguay (CFU) received a warning from Bank of America and the US Federal Reserve that international anti-money laundering regulations establish restrictions on the sale of marijuana, even when the drug is nationally legalised.
This threat, combined with an undersupply of cannabis and also problems relating to the quality of the pot being sold in pharmacies, meant that Uruguay’s pharmacies went for almost a month without cannabis sales.
Now, the pharmacies initially authorised to market marijuana will once again have the product on sale next week. Sources from the government agency in charge of cannabis, the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) told the national newspaper El Observador that they will restock the pharmacies within a few days’ time.
In addition, two new varieties of cannabis will be added to the distribution. Alfa II M and Beta II M will be on sale from the next few days and will have a higher percentage of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the component of cannabis that gets users “high”) than the two previous types, so the psychoactive effects will be stronger. In total, four different marijuana varieties will be commercialized for recreational purposes.
The delivery of cannabis was suspended partly because the Ministry of Public Health (MSP) had requested more quality analysis of the latest crops. The ministry carries out rigorous controls and tests, which revealed significant differences between winter and summer crops. The marijuana that was planted during cold days and low light favours the proliferation of fungi and bacteria that can put their quality at risk.
“Winter crops have to be done in a specific way so that the levels of microorganisms are low, as this was the first winter that happened for the two companies, there are a number of details that are being finalized,” said a source within a company contracted by the government to farm the cannabis that is being sold in a select number of Uruguayan pharmacies.
The source stressed that all the drugs that will go on sale this week will be in “perfect condition”.
The threats issued by American banking institutions have not thwarted Uruguay’s legal cannabis industry.
Senator Jose Mujica, who established the country’s national cannabis regulations while he was President between 2010 and 2015, threatened to lock up the Parliament of Uruguay unless they found a way to restore the sales of cannabis to the public. Clearly, they have more respect for Mujica than they do for the American banks trying to derail Uruguay’s bold cannabis regulations, as the pharmacies are once again getting the product to the people.