Ministers in the South American country Uruguay have voted in support of a new law, known as 19.172 and enacted in December 2013, to permit marijuana to be sold for non-medicinal use.
They also accepted the offer by Uruguay’s community pharmacy owners to sell the drug through their outlets.
The community pharmacy owners argue that community pharmacies are the ideal places from which to supply marijuana because they already have the computer systems needed to create a national database of marijuana users – a record that the government wants to establish as part of framework for the new law.
Most countries considering the legalisation of marijuana are only looking at the medical use and not its recreational use.
However, at least one state (Colorado) in the US has legalised its recreational use and has found a new tax base in the process that has been successfully recycled back in the form of free health systems and free education plus eliminate a problematic long-standing budget “black hole”.
Uruguay’s pharmacy professional organisation, the Association of Chemistry and Pharmacy of Urugua (AQFU), claims that filling such a role would be unethical and damaging for the profession’s reputation.
It has launched an online petition calling for a ban on community pharmacies selling marijuana and is taking legal advice to see if it can challenge the new law on the grounds that selling marijuana is counter to a pharmacist’s professional code of ethics.
It is also considering asking pharmacists to boycott working for community pharmacies that decide to sell the drug when the new regulations are introduced in November.
More than 450 people have signed the petition to date.
Uruguay’s decision to legalise the sale of non-medical marijuana through licenced pharmacies goes against international co-operation, the United Nations commented.
It is the first country in the world to legalise the marijuana trade, according to reports from the BBC and Reuters.
The UN said Uruguay has “knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed provisions of the [1961 single convention on narcotic drugs] treaty”.
Reports reveal that Uruguayan residents over 18 years of age who are registered under a government scheme will be able to buy up to 40g of marijuana per month from licensed pharmacies.
Residents will also be legally allowed to grow up to six plants at home.
Given that the medical marijuana market will be an important one for Australian community pharmacies, it would seem to i2P that the debate on protocols needs to occur sooner, rather than later, and that the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) need to prepare clear position statements that will help create future ethical guidelines for both pharmacists and legislators.
FIP president Michel Buchmann has commented that the “whole world was watching” developments in Uruguay.
He warned: “Other countries may want to follow the footsteps of Uruguay in this regard. Therefore the consequences will have an impact well beyond national borders.”
i2P would support the position outlined by FIP and the AQFU and believes that most Australian pharmacists would hold similar views.
However, commoditisation for recreational use could be pursued by discount pharmacies because of the large and profitable cash flows involved and the fact that sales would be restricted to pharmacies – and that might make the prospect irresistible.
And could we trust and expect our big spending politicians to vote for legislation ethically, given that a marijuana-based revenue stream might repair state and federal budgets, plus a bit of lobbying largesse spread around to “sweeten the pie”?
i2P has previously published advice and information encouraging Australian pharmacists to engage with medical marijuana because of its enormous range of health benefits and the investment opportunities that will be presented from growing, manufacturing, distributing and compounding of the natural product.
The major problem that i2P can foresee is the problem of a secure and uninterrupted supply as big money interests are already gathering to swoop and distort/disrupt the market.
Medical marijuana represents a genuine opportunity for Australian taxpayers to be able to reduce PBS expenditure, reduce major drug addiction, create local jobs and create specialty services for clinical pharmacists.
i2P has discovered an ethical organisation committed to the ideals expressed above and it is already growing its first crop in the Tamworth region of NSW.
We have elaborated on its origins in a separate article in this edition.