Pablo Porciuncula (AFP/Getty Images file)

Uruguay marijuana: 20 companies vying to supply pharmacies

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay’s new market for legalized marijuana has attracted at least 20 companies bidding for the right to supply pot to the country’s pharmacies, a government official said Thursday.

An official from President Jose Mujica’s office says cannabis regulators will review and pick the best businesses from the competitors that passed initial scrutiny. It’s not clear how many may eventually be granted licenses in the South American country.

The government official did not specify an exact number of bidders, saying only it was “more than 20 and less than 25.” He spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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Successful companies must identify everyone involved in their businesses document the source of their financing and be cleared by Uruguay’s anti-money laundering agency.

Uruguay is the first nation in the world to attempt to regulate the cultivation and sale of pot on a nationwide scale. The legalization law, passed in December 2013, allows growers and users to form clubs and authorizes pharmacies to sell up to 40 grams of pot a month to registered users.

Mujica has said the sale of marijuana through pharmacies would be postponed until next year.

On Wednesday, people in Uruguay who want to grow their own marijuana at home for personal use were able to register to do so as the government launched the latest phase in its legalization program.

The government’s Institute of Cannabis Regulation and Control said in a statement on Thursday that 54 home growers had registered over two days, including 21 in the Montevideo department that includes the capital of the same name.

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“It was a very simple bureaucratic step, much less complicated that I had thought,” said marijuana grower Juan Vaz.

Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for October and the major opposition candidates have signaled they intend to repeal all or part of the legalization law if they gain power.