In 2013, Uruguay was the first country to regulate recreational marijuana at the national level.  The regulation of marijuana in that country, however, differs significantly from that which is provided in Canada’s new law.

Under the Uruguay legislation, the government is the only supplier, putting limits on what is sold and the way it is sold.  No commercialization or advertising of marijuana is permitted.  Other restrictions under the Uruguay regulations include: marijuana being prohibited while driving, no consumption in enclosed public spaces, no advertising, only citizens and permanent residents may participate in the marijuana program, and they must register with The Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis in order to purchase marijuana.  In addition, individuals are restricted to 480 grams per year (40 grams per month) which can be obtained only in licensed pharmacies. 

Unexpected Consequence of Uruguay’s Regulation of Marijuana

An unexpected consequence of Uruguay’s marijuana law is that the U.S. government invoked the Patriot Act which prohibits U.S. banks from handling funds for distributors of marijuana.  In Uruguay, this is by way of the pharmacies only.  International banks – both those with U.S. headquarters such as Citibank and European banks such as Santander have advised their Uruguayan branches that they are prohibited from providing services to the distributors of marijuana.

As a result, pharmacies tasked with the sale and distribution of marijuana have been cut off from the entire financial services market because the banks in Uruguay announced that every business associated with the newly legal marijuana industry risked being in violation of the U.S. drug laws and would lose their access to U.S. banks and dollar transactions.

Source: Real Women of Canada – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (April 2018)