Eleven companies are still in the race to secure a state license to produce marijuana and supply it to pharmacies, which will then sell the drug to registered users at a government-fixed price.
Uruguay legalized the growth, production, and sale of marijuana in 2013 as a way to combat drug trafficking, but the mass production of cannabis and sale through pharmacies has stalled.
The government claims it postponed pharmacy sales to avoid “making any mistakes.” The tender process is expected to end in late August, and the government plans to give all bids “one last review,” according to Juan Andrés Roballo, head of the National Drug Board (JND).
The JND expects legal marijuana sales to begin before April 2016, in time for the United Nations Special Assembly on Drugs in New York. Uruguay has been lobbying to secure a regional bloc and present a joint case for regulation instead of prohibition.
Once Uruguayan officials decide who will be granted license to mass produce marijuana, each firm will prow their plants on special government-owned plots of land. The first harvest could be ready four months later.
Companies will then sell the drug at government-designated pharmacies to individuals over 18 years of age who are registered with the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA).
Currently, Uruguayans can grow marijuana in their homes or join cannabis clubs, but must also be registered with the IRCCA.
Uruguay became first country to fully legalize the production and sale of marijuana in late 2013.
Congress passed the drug reform during the administration of José Mujica (2010-2015), who spearheaded the change, but current President Tabaré Vázquez, a physician, has not made the initiative a priority.