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  • The law means to funnel money away from drug traffickers, toward legal businesses and the state.

    The law means to funnel money away from drug traffickers, toward legal businesses and the state. | Photo: AFP

The most innovative — and controversial — aspect of the law, pharmacy sales, had been on hold, with no clear timeline for when it would begin.

Uruguay will become the world's first country to allow recreational marijuana to be sold in pharmacies starting in July, the president's office said Thursday, marking the last step in implementing a revolutionary law that the South American country adopted in 2013 that fully legalized the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.

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"Cannabis will be dispensed in pharmacies starting in the month of July," said presidential aide Juan Andres Roballo, the head of the National Drugs Council, at a news conference. "Sometime in the first two weeks of July," he added.

Under the law, buyers must sign up for a national registry of marijuana users to ensure they have fulfilled licensing procedures and do not exceed the monthly maximum purchase of 40 grams (1.4 ounces).

The registry — which is open only to Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents — will be up and running on May 2, Roballo said. A gram of pot will cost US$1.30, said the secretary general of the National Drugs Council, Diego Olivera. The drug will be sold in packets of five or 10 grams, with only the smaller size available initially, he said. Part of the proceeds will fund government drug-use prevention programs.

The marijuana sold in pharmacies is being grown by private companies on state-supervised farms. The country has so far stockpiled 400 kilograms (880 pounds), produced by two different firms.

"We're far from covering the real demand," said Roballo, as Uruguay, a country of 3.4 million people, has an estimated 150,000 regular marijuana users. Yet starting sales will enable companies to ramp up production, he added.

Under the law, users also have the option to grow their own pot at home or join cannabis clubs that grow it in cooperatives.

Only 16 pharmacies have signed agreements with the government to supply marijuana so far. The government is hoping to reach at least 30 by the time sales begin.

Roballo said the government's marijuana would be "every bit" as potent as that sold by dealers. "Buyers will have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming, and so the risks will diminish considerably," he said.

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