You Can’t Buy It, But You Can Legally Score Some. Here’s How.
When traveling in South America, many cannabis enthusiasts head towards Uruguay. Its name means “river of the colorful birds”, and what better imagery to ponder as you relax and lose yourself on a cloud of gloriously legal smoke?
Uruguay legalized cannabis in December 2013, becoming the first country in the world to do so. This means that citizens of Uruguay and registered residents who have lived in the country for at least two years can legally purchase up to 10g of cannabis per week. They have to register with a central database in order to legally purchase cannabis from a pharmacy, and purchases are tracked to flag people who attempt to buy more than their allotted share.
The Uruguayan national government controls cannabis 100% – from growing to distributing. This isn’t an unusual policy when you realize that the Uruguayan government regulates and controls many things – from public utilities to the price of grocery staples such as milk.
The government is still working to get their cannabis distribution system up and running, however. They will require all pharmacies to have fingerprint recognition software that will be used to identify customers. Pharmacies will also need to secure their stock inside of wall-mounted safety boxes (each pharmacy will be allowed to have a maximum of two kilos on hand at any given time). There is also the small snag that the government-provided cannabis isn’t currently ready for sale.
No matter! In Uruguay, individuals are allowed to grow up to 6 plants. Some people choose to come together to form cannabis clubs; this allows groups of 15 to 14 people to grow up to 99 marijuana plants. Seeds are readily available for sale at smoke shops. Despite the lack of retail supply of finished product, there’s always plenty of weed to go around.
Public consumption is legal and perfectly normal here. In fact, cannabis is treated like tobacco. People 18 and older are allowed to smoke it in public – just not inside enclosed public buildings or workplaces. In other words, smoking at an outdoor restaurant patio is ok, while smoking inside the restaurant is not.
And Here’s the Catch..
Tourists in Uruguay are not allowed to purchase cannabis. I repeat: Tourists in Uruguay are not allowed to purchase cannabis. And purchasing weed from dealers is most definitely still illegal there. How on earth does this make for a cannabis tourism culture?
Because there’s a catch in the law. While tourists aren’t allowed to buy marijuana, they are allowed to receive it as a gift. If you make friends who are excited to share their stash with you, you’re good. And if you just happen to pay for a cannabis-themed tour and receive a..um..gift at the end of your tour, then you haven’t broken any laws. See?
That’s how Mvd High sprang up in the laid-back capital city of Montevideo. The company provides two different tours, complete with “tastings” as a gift for learning more about the cannabis industry in Uruguay. Ok, so the Sensorial tour is pretty much about toking it up in a few of Montevideo’s most picturesque spots. The Cannabis Culture tour, however, is perfect for those who really would like to educate themselves about the cultivation and legalization of cannabis in Uruguay.
The Sensorial tour consists of three “high points” at which the group enjoys tastings. The first high point provides a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Old City and its surrounding barrios. Your guide will discuss the path that finally led to marijuana legalization has traveled in Uruguay. You’ll also visit a local grow shop.
The second high point is the Legislative Assembly – the national parliament building where the law to fully legalize marijuana was signed. Guides enjoy pointing out the juxtaposition between countries like Uruguay, where it’s perfectly legal to sit on the steps of this government building and openly enjoy a smoke, and US states like Colorado where cannabis is legal, but public consumption will get you arrested.
The third high point is Montevideo’s Port Market. Enjoy another tasting as you peruse the market for delicious snacks, relax, and enjoy the ornate, colonial-era architecture of the Old City.
Those who opt for the Cannabis Culture Tour will visit a grow shop and growers’ cooperative. The tour is led by one of the managers of the co-op, who will explain firsthand all of the work that went into making legalization a reality. Tour participants will be able to discuss Uruguayan cannabis culture with the guide, who will be happy to answer any and all questions.
Punta Del Este is another go-to destination for cannabis enthusiasts. With its electric Miami vibe, it has more of an urban feel than Montevideo. While it’s chock-full of tourists, it’s also home to beautiful beaches that are a destination for surfers, as well as an amazing nightlife. It’s a great place to meet up, make friends, and find some smoke.
Food, Friends, and One Huge Festival
While you may head to Uruguay with weed in mind, make sure to open your eyes and your heart to take in all that this amazing country has to offer. The food is a mix of Spanish with strong Italian influences. When you get the munchies, make sure to stock up on empanadas – delicious little handheld meat and cheese pies. Take some time to sample the offerings from Uruguay’s stunning wine country. They have four wine regions, and they also produce olive oil.
If you visit Uruguay in the first part of the year, you’ll arrive during Carnival season. The Uruguayan Carnival is huge – rivaling the more well-known festival in Rio de Janeiro. It starts in the middle of January and goes on for a full two months. There is no better way to celebrate being alive than by losing yourself in the singing, dancing, and pounding drumbeats of a Carnival dance parade.
Check out the beaches along the Atlantic coast. If you tire of the big city vibe of Punta del Este, check out Jose Ignacio, which is more quiet, hip and laid back. A trip to Uruguay would be a great opportunity to try out surfing (and trying out surfing can lead to great opportunities to score some a bit of weed)!
Most of all, reach out and make friends. The people are incredibly progressive and friendly, so make an attempt to interact and meet people. Learn to speak a little bit of Spanish. You’ll quickly understand why Uruguay is a country that is beloved by locals and visitors alike.