Uruguay Can't Keep Up With Its Cannabis Demand

Legal cannabis went up for sale in Uruguay last year following a law that was passed in 2013. Despite the delay between legalization and retail sales, Uruguay is now facing deep cannabis shortages.

Oregon and California have been experiencing flooded cannabis markets, where producers are growing much more product then they can sell. Uruguay is seeing the exact opposite: Legal producers are providing only one-third of the countries esitmated 30 tons of cannabis consumed each year.

"The demand is greater than our productive capacity," says the head of Uruguay's National Drugs Council, Diego Olivera. "We have to address that challenge."

Patients such as Laura Andrade are being turned away at he door from pharmacies that can't keep enough stock to service the demand.

"Today, I'll have to buy from an illegal dealer," says Andrade. "I have no choice. This system is crap. It's useless!"

There are 19 provinces in Uruguay, most of which don't have any dispensaries yet. Even in the provinces that do, they are few and far between. Many pharmacies choose not to carry the substance meaning some patients have to travel significant distances to get their medication. Even when the trip is made there are no guarantees medical marijuana will be available when they get there.

"The system is ridiculous," said an anonymous buyer. "I live far away, work and study. It's too complicated to buy like this." He said the dispensary refused to serve him because he arrived before the store opened.

Part of the issue in Uruguay was the lack of a trained workforce. Cultivation of cannabis had to be learned from the ground up for many producers, who are only now beginning to get the hang of things.

"There was no experience with farming on a large scale and it took a while to finally nail the technology, the workforce and the drying process," Olivera said.

In light of all this, drug-related crimes are up, too - a stat that cannabis opponents like former president Julio Maria level against the new industry.

"There have never been as many drug traffickers and drug violence as today."

Still, defeating a black market is a long road and cannabis has only been legal in Uruguay for one year. These things take time. "We never thought about eliminating the black market in a short time; it was always a gradual thing," says Olivera. "This doesn't happen overnight."

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