(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Uruguay running late on pot regulations; purchase limits, plant tracking in question

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay’s government is still writing the rules for its legal marijuana market, two weeks overdue now, and President Jose Mujica has asked that no details be released until the regulations are published Friday or Monday.

But an official in Uruguay’s drug control office told The Associated Press that the rules will limit consumers to buying 10 grams of pot a month, rather than the maximum of 40 grams set by legislators. The official said that is aimed at reducing the illegal resale of marijuana that will be sold by pharmacies.

Registered buyers will get cards linked to an electronic database that will track each user’s purchases, but the cards won’t have names on them and the records won’t reveal identities to pharmacy staff, said the official, who agreed to discuss the shaping of the rules only if not quoted by name.

He said the delay in publishing the rules was partly because Congress didn’t address taxing pot sales when it passed the law in December. Officials are now developing a set of fees to avoid giving marijuana an unfair advantage over highly taxed alcohol and cigarette sales, he said.

Related: Uruguay allowing medical marijuana use by inmates

Another problem has been figuring out how to trace marijuana plants from seed to smoke, which was a key promise made by the law’s promoters.

With opinion polls saying most Uruguayans opposed the move to legalize pot, the government pushed the law through Congress by arguing the best way to defeat drug trafficking is to create a regulated marketplace in which licensed and registered citizens can grow, buy, sell and use legal marijuana.

The law’s backers said government-approved marijuana plants would have genetic markers and be cloned so licensed products can be identified as legitimate. Growers, sellers and users would be subject to inspection and testing, and anyone caught with illegal strains would be punished.

But exactly how to accomplish this through regulation has proved difficult, the official said.

Uruguay is the first country in the world to attempt to create a nationwide market regulating the cultivation, sale and use of legal marijuana. Once the system launches, registered users should be able to buy their weed in pharmacies, grow as much as six plants per family and harvest 480 grams a year at home, or join cultivation clubs that can have as many as 45 members and 99 plants.

The 10-gram purchase limit is an arbitrary figure, “and no one knows very well where it comes from,” said Juan Andres Palese, a co-owner of Urugrow, the country’s first store selling tools for growing and using marijuana. “But it’s a start, and as such I support it. I think these numbers will get updated later.”

This story was first published on DenverPost.com