After four years of legal sales, Uruguay serving about half of entire cannabis market

| David Brown

After more than four and a half years of operation, Uruguay’s legal cannabis market is serving about 39%-56% of cannabis consumers in the country. 

The data, from a recent report from the Instituto de Regulacion y Control del Cannabis (IRCC), is based on a survey of consumers from August and September 2021 and covers the market up until December 2021.

Survey results show that there are about 250,000 cannabis consumers over the age of 18 (legal age of access) in the country of about 3.5 million, or about 7% of the total population. This is a 10% of the approximately 2.6 million Uruguayans who are of the legal age of access. 

Uruguay legalized cannabis in 2013 but did not open retail sales until July 2017. Consumers can sign up for one of three access points—purchasing cannabis through a few dozen authorized pharmacies, growing their own, or growing as part of a cooperative where members share the duties of growing.

Although only a handful of pharmacies were initially participating in the program, the number has climbed in the last few years leading to an overall increase in sales. 

Cannabis sold in pharmacies comes in 5-gram packages, with a 40 gram a month limit. As of February 1, the price of a 5-gram package of dried cannabis flowers at a pharmacy was set at $390 Uruguayan pesos, or about $12 Canadian. Consumers can choose from four different cannabis varieties sold in five-gram bags called Alfa I, Alfa II, Beta I and Beta II, with around 2% CBD and 9% THC, depending on the variety.

The average monthly purchase in pharmacies in 2021 was about 15 grams.

Although the survey data shows only 29% of respondents reported accessing cannabis through legal channels, policymakers assume that because many consumers share their cannabis, this would account for about 39% of the total market. 

Of those who responded to the survey, 43% said they shared it with friends and family. 

Since registration to grow your own cannabis only lasts for three years, policymakers estimate that if those licences were automatically renewed, it would bring the total number to around 56% of the total market. 

As of December 31, 2021, 47,515 people were registered to purchase cannabis in pharmacies, while 13,441 were registered to grow their own, and another 7,032 were registered to grow in one of the country’s 220 registered grow collectives. 

Only 53% of those registered to purchase in pharmacies did so in 2021. 

From January to December 2021 there was an 11% increase in people registered in the regulated market and a 31% increase in those registering to a growing club/cooperative. There were 58 new clubs/cooperatives registered in 2021.