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Uruguay Lawmakers Won’t Apply Strict Tobacco Packaging Rules On Marijuana

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A push to extend strict prohibitions on cigarette packaging—intended to make tobacco products less alluring to consumers—to legal marijuana products in Uruguay was defeated in that country’s Senate on Tuesday.

Uruguay is considered an international leader in tobacco control.

Tobacco companies are prohibited from selling multiple varieties within brands—no multi-flavored Camel Krush selections, for example—and a recent “plain packaging” law means that cigarettes and other tobacco products must be sold in drab boxes without colorful packaging or art-designed logos.

But that law, passed by decree, was recently suspended by the courts in a contentious decision after British American Tobacco, the world’s largest tobacco company, intervened. And so now lawmakers are moving to formally enact plain packaging requirements.

Uruguay is also a worldwide leader in marijuana legalization.

In 2013, the country became the first nation in the world to legalize cannabis, and Uruguayans can now purchase up to 40 grams a month at participating pharmacies. Despite a slow roll-out and limited retail capacity, demand has been stupendous. Consumers regularly complain that pharmacies are sold out, struggling to fulfill about one-third of the total demand for marijuana, as CBS News reported earlier this year.

Now that the legislature is moving to address tobacco packaging this week, certain lawmakers appear keen to draw a distinction between those products and cannabis.

An amendment to extend the packaging laws for tobacco to marijuana, proposed by members of the National Party, Uruguay’s leading right-wing political organization, was defeated by senators, according to a local press report.

The National Party has been opposed to the country’s legal cannabis experiment from the beginning. In 2014, the party’s presidential candidate campaigned on the promise to repeal legalization if elected. (He was not.)

After the Tuesday vote to reject the marijuana packaging amendment, lawmakers from the National Party slammed the distinction as “totally incoherent.”

However, treating marijuana differently than tobacco is consistent with findings made by science and health researchers. One lengthy study comparing tobacco smokers’ health outcomes with marijuana users’ found no link between cannabis use and long-term lung health problems like cancer and emphysema.

And there are no known medical benefits for tobacco use, while marijuana consumption has been found to alleviate pain and stimulate appetite, for example.

In order for restrictions to be applied to cannabis packaging and products, more research is necessary to learn what impacts its use has on the population, said Sen. Monica Xavier, president of Frente Amplio, the in-power coalition of leftist political parties.

The tobacco packaging bill, without the marijuana provision, was approved by the Senate and must be now passed by the country’s House of Representatives in order to become law.

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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

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