Juan Andres Palese tends to his marijuana crop this month on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay. Palese used a fake name when he founded Uruguay's first marijuana growing store.<!--IPTC: FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2013 file photo, Juan Andres Palese, a marijuana grower, shows his crop, on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay. Palese was using a fake name when he founded Uruguay s first marijuana growing store, where he made sure not to sell any illegal seeds or plants. But he s operating in the open now that President Jose Mujica signed into law his government s plan to create and regulate the world s first national marijuana market. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico, File)-->

Legalization law brings out Uruguay’s marijuana growers

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Juan Andres Palese was using a fake name in public when he opened Uruguay’s first store dedicated to cultivating marijuana, where he offered growing equipment and advice but no illegal plants or seeds.

Now that President Jose Mujica’s plan to create and regulate the world’s first national marijuana market has the force of law, Palese’s plans have grown.

His tiny shop, Urugrow, is already too small to support a rising number of clients, and he’ll be moving to a larger, higher-profile locale soon. Once the law’s regulations are in place, he said he hopes to openly sell seeds and cuttings along with all the tools anyone needs to legally grow up to six plants in their own home.

The symbols of marijuana are in full bloom in Uruguay: T-shirts featuring designs of pot leaves are sold on the streets, and the radio carries the music of Jamaican singer Bob Marley.

But the people who are so enthusiastically buying potting soil, lights and irrigation equipment to start their own marijuana gardens also could be buying trouble from police if they don’t wait to start cultivating the weed until after the state launches its registration and licensing system, the nation’s drug czar said Thursday.

“From a strictly formal point of view, you still can’t. Until the regulations are in place, there’s no way to legally have marijuana plants in your house,” said Julio Calzada, secretary general of the national drug junta, on Uruguay’s Radio Universal.

Once registered and licensed, any Uruguayan adult will be allowed to choose one of three options: grow plants at home, join a pot-growing club or buy marijuana cigarettes from pharmacies, Calzada said.

Meanwhile, even as the law’s fine print is being written, he said judges have clearer guidelines for separating marijuana smoking, which has long been legal in Uruguay, from selling the drug, which remains illegal for now. Palese is content to wait a bit longer to open his larger store.

“The law is a great way to start with this issue,” he said. “For us, it’s really useful.”

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