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Latin America Travel Cannabis Drugs

Cannabis in Uruguay

I had heard about legal cannabis in Uruguay before I first visited in January of 2016. Was eager enough to sample it, but wasn’t seeking it out. I didn’t have to.

cannabis in Uruguay

Everywhere I went in Uruguay there was cannabis growing.

cannabis in Uruguay

During second visit to Montevideo in December of 2017 there was still cannabis growing everywhere I went. Everyone’s house and their parents’ house too.

outdoor cannabis in Uruguay

I visited Uruguay twice because I made friends there, not because it was compelling enough to bring me back. That said, there’s nothing *wrong* with Uruguay. A place whose worst sin is boredom isn’t one to complain about.

Cannabis in Uruguay

During my second visit I was definitely more interested in cannabis in Uruguay. In the meantime the legal cannabis industry in Uruguay had progressed. Theoretically. 

weed in uruguay graffiti

What really happened was a socialist shitshow so complex I can’t understand or describe it, but the result is a handful of pharmacies granted license to provide price fixed marijuana to far more people than they could ever supply. The small pipeline and the low pricing caused both rotting weed and complete product shortage. Not many took advantage of cannabis in Uruguay through this system and those that did stood in painfully long lines. I’m not sure they’ve repaired it yet.

Street  Art Montevideo Uruguay

One thing that was true of legal cannabis in Uruguay during both of my visits was that it granted people the right to grow plants in their own home.

Again, I’m no expert on how many. I do know that one is supposed to register those plants with the Uruguayan government, and that the majority of Uruguayans omit that step.

This alleviates a lot of the pressure that would cause any kind of functioning cannabis industry. Most Uruguayans know that the only way they’re ever going to get weed is to grow it, and so most of them grow it. Many of them grow it at their house and at multiple family members’ houses, to ensure enough supply.

Street Art Montevideo

The aunties and grandpas who let their nieces and grandsons grow weed in their yards give me feels.

It’s an offshoot of a completely non-functional sales system that shows me the sweet side of destroying the marketability of an ancient herb through myopic bureaucracy. Just hope there’s enough medicine for uncles and grandmas who need it.

My first trip to Uruguay involves a lot of this homegrown Uruguayan cannabis. Also I learn that one doesn’t need very much time in Montevideo, especially in their summer. I tool around looking at the sites and the beach and the Rambla, doing tourist shit, drinking mate. I even buy my own mate and bombilla.

Mate and Bombilla Uruguay

My hosts take me to visit their parents, who tell me about life during the dictatorship.

Yes, Uruguay had it lighter than many countries in South America during Plan Condor, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an impact.

I learn more from the experience of my host’s father than I would from reading the stories of those lost or disappeared. Through their plight I understand how even for those that remained and who lost no one – life was forever changed. My host’s father received a “grade” by the dictatorship, assigned a “B”, therefore could only learn and practice certain trades. It shifted his trajectory in society. 

Montevideo Mural

The ripples of traumatic societal events show themselves with graceful subtlety in Uruguay.

Montevideo

I make the mistake of swimming in the ocean near the city the first visit. Not for swimming. For looking. Itchy. 

It takes me all of three days to exhaust the sites and things to do in Montevideo. Then, there I am, doing whatever locals do (other than eating meat, I’m a vegetarian. But parilla veggies and cheese with herbs, muy rico) – mostly smoking weed.

The smell of Palo Santo, meat cooking on Uruguayan parilla, and salt air was the aroma signature of my first trip. For the second, I note that cannabis smoke more often competes, nosing its way into the lead in most areas of the city.

Montevideo Graffiti Art

My second trip to Uruguay I am to be housesitting for my hosts for half the time. I’m taking care of said cannabis plants in Uruguay, but mostly other non-cannabis plants, which they have plenty of, as well as the cat, Frida.

I’ve heard there may be cannabis concentrates in Uruguay and know that I will again be sitting in Montevideo for longer than anyone could need. Figure that getting super baked on cannabis in Uruguay is a good use of my time.

I ask around with purpose and alacrity.

Eventually a family member of a friend helps me out. It’s one of those situations where I get on a bus to the suburbs of a city, not really knowing anything about where I will end up because the details didn’t want to be communicated over any tracked media. Thankfully the country has addresses, so at least I know exactly where I’m going. It seems wealthy. 

I’m on the bus for an hour hoping that whatever cannabis concentrates in Uruguay look like they’re worth the trip. I look out the window at the pleasant, sparse flatlands of Uruguayan suburbia. It’s one of the less populated areas of the planet, pleasant for it.

Graffiti Uruguay

Uruguay is surprisingly progressive for a South American, Catholic-majority country. Uruguay has had separation of Church and State since the getgo, longer than the United States. It’s a laid back country that lives in the shadow of Argentina and Brazil.

There’s gay rights and legal abortion and of course, cannabis in Uruguay is more legal than it is in most of the rest of Latin America, and certainly decrimilnalized.

Mumbling in pidgeon Spanish that will never do Uruguayan Spanish any justice (IMO it’s the most difficult Spanish accent, more so than the Porteño Argentinian from Buenos Aires) and dressed modestly – I wander through the suburbs to the address which I easily find due to the multitude of Uruguayan Cimarrón dogs that apparently this cannabis in Uruguay dude breeds on the side.

The dogs greet me lovingly, much to my chagrin.

It is not my first time seeing people who breed animals who also sell drugs. Both are things that are easy and natural human ways to make money. Growing plants. Growing animals.

My stereotypes about cannabis in Uruguay are quickly altered by Jose, who turns out to be a wholesale rosin press importer.

He leads me around the back of his ranch house to room off of the garage with sturdy custom counters built along all sides. There sit about a dozen presses, of two or three different varieties.

It’s a showroom, and at the same time, there are hints that growers can come and press their wares for a fee. That part isn’t legal though, and this guy is trying to stay legit.

He is trying to sell the presses to local Uruguayan grow shops which can then sell them to growers, as that chain of infrastructure is all legal in Uruguay. His challenge, however, is that the import taxes on the machines are more than 100% of the cost of the machine.

I think of the multitude of countries where that’s true for vehicles. But this isn’t a car, it’s a $3000 press.

Jose’s sales pitch to the growers points out that a press is the price they’ll get for selling a pound wholesale (none of this scales to the US). I note he doesn’t mention anything to them about the market for said concentrates, which I know is slim.

Street Art Uruguay

This poor schmuck is fighting an uphill battle against insane bureaucracy trying to sell a rosin press made in California for over $6000. I’m no expert, again, but it sounds like the only reason that he can make a legal business out of this is an overlooked loophole in the law, and a sizable investment that came from who knows where.

Jose is shirtless and surrounded by slobbering dogs as he, as a favor to a family member, pulls out a bag full of buds, grinds and presses them into a mold. He then covers this in wax paper and sets it under the press in the machine. He tosses me the bag so I can have a look at the fine cannabis in Uruguay. It’s good stuff. Natural. Loosely trimmed. I throw it back to him and he hits the button on the press.

I have one of those “losing my virginity” moments where I know that this adventure in cannabis in Uruguay will be the first place that I actually get to see rosin made with my own eyes.

Speaking of my own eyes, they travel from the press to up and down Jose’s torso with appreciation. He’s clearly a surfer, though pretty much every male I’ve ever met in Uruguay is a surfer. He’s built well, brown, sun-kissed skin, close-cropped hair. I note his slightly larger left arm, ostensibly from holding the mate thermos underneath it. They call it the Uruguayan muscle. 

I have bought rosin many a time before, from Colorado mostly, but also California. At first I fall for the hype – it’s solvent free. It’s a way of concentrating cannabis that involves nothing but mechanical pressure. That’s gotta be healthy, right?

These days, I prefer a clean extraction to rosin. Some of the things I have no desire to inahale are the things excluded from the plant during extraction. It’s probably six of one, half a dozen of the other breathing in the plant crap vs. the solvent residue, but I go with my tastes and I prefer a nice live resin to a rosin.

The rosin press works like any other press would. It presses.

It makes a big machiney, grindy noise and slowly presses a plate down onto the mold. And, when he is done, I have some brown-looking Uruguayan rosin made from Uruguayan cannabis. He tells me about various grades, first press, second press, all the way down… I tune it out because I’ve already got what I need. I am not upset. Beggars for Uruguayan cannabis in foreign lands cannot be choosers. Or something.

I thank shirtless Jose and his hot Uruguayan accent mixed with California slang, slip him some pesos, and hop back on the bus only slightly covered in dog slobber with a hot chunk of rosin in my purse. 

Street Art Montevideo Uruguay

I muse on the quality of the experience and of the scene of cannabis in Uruguay. The beachy, surfer feel and even the Spanish feels very familiar to California. However, riding two hours to score cannabis in Uruguay reminds me of California like, 25 years ago

Granted if I’d wanted flowers they’ve have been provided more easily and conveniently – but even these are not in constant supply. I’d have to live with knowing that I was digging into someone’s private stash, to a limited amount that they have from plants they grew themselves. Causes a much higher appreciation for the flowers. Of course I can live with that I just did the same thing, only concentrated a month’s supply down into 3 or 4 grams of rosin that will last me a week at best… 

Not so easy to be an addict in a semi-socialist society.

The shortages and strange supply lines in Uruguay don’t stop at cannabis. Finding a dab rig is the next step in my quest, and it is not easy. It’s the week between Christmas and New Years, for one, and many shops that would otherwise open have closed for the holidays.

The easiest part to find is the item I thought would be the hardest to find: the glassware. As soon as I find the only full size head shop in Montevideo. I have to return to the shop twice to ask advice about buying other pieces. First I find butane, which I have struggled to find before in Denmark, wandering the streets for hours looking for a hardware store carrying it. In the United States, one can buy refills for butane on almost every corner in the city, at every grocery store, gas station, and convenience shop. No need for a special place.

The last item I am left searching for is a torch, which proves to be the most difficult and requires me to come back to downtown Montevideo on a second day to search for it, meaning I have to sleep overnight staring at concentrates I have no way of consuming (without wasting them, which I refuse to do). 

I have dreams about shirtless Uruguayan surfer men teasing me by stripping off their wax paper sarongs, giving me hints of brown flashes beneath. 

Finally, at the crack of opening time in Uruguay on a holiday week (unsurprisingly not the opening time listed on Google or the sign) at a kitchen supply place I find a creme brulee torch. Soplete, by the way, is the word for “blowtorch” in Spanish. You’re welcome.

dab rig in Uruguay

Finally, with rig and dabs, I am thoroughly and adequately high. The rosin is powerful and takes all my sobriety away. The days slide by. I wander around looking at street art and sit at cafes and on the beach. Cannabis in Uruguay satisfies me. Everything is familiar, hazy, warm, and easy.

One year slides into the next and it’s time for me to go. 

Montevideo sunset

I leave all my cannabis in Uruguay, and gift the rig to my hosts on their return to Montevideo. They’re pleased.


Other posts about weed and dictatorships:

Happy Pizza Cambodia

Weed: Israel and Palestine


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