Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jul 2016
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press


MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) - Rossana Rilla could sell marijuana under 
Uruguay's pioneering law that lets pharmacies distribute pot. But she 
says there is no way she will.

In her 28 years as a pharmacist, she has been beaten, dragged across 
the floor and threatened by thieves at gunpoint and with a grenade. 
She fears that selling marijuana would only make her store a bigger 
target for robbers and burglars.

"You see their faces and you can tell right away that they are not 
consumers who are here just to buy" marijuana, Rilla said about the 
"suspicious people" who have recently been coming into her Montevideo 
pharmacy asking if she sells pot.

She isn't alone in avoiding the government's marijuana program. Most 
of the country's pharmacists haven't signed on, citing security 
concerns and complaining of paperwork, cost increases or opposition 
from customers to selling legalized pot.

Uruguay legalized the cultivation and sale of marijuana in 2013 in a 
bid to create the world's first government-regulated national 
marketplace for pot. The goal was to fight rising homicide and crime 
rates associated with drug trafficking in the South American country.

But while the government wants to start selling marijuana at 
pharmacies in the coming weeks, so far only 50 out of 1,200 
pharmacies are registered, stoking a debate over how the drug should 
be distributed.

"I don't see the need to get into a conflict with people who are 
already selling weed in the neighborhoods," said Marcelo Trujillo, 
who owns three pharmacies in Montevideo's Cerro neighborhood.

"I just don't want to expose myself or my employees," he said. Next 
to him, a worker repaired a glass that was shattered during a recent 
robbery attempt.

The law allows for the growing of pot by licensed individuals, the 
formation of growers and users clubs, and the sale by pharmacies of 
40 grams of marijuana a month to registered users. While the plan has 
been widely applauded globally and seen as going beyond marijuana 
legislation in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, most 
Uruguayans oppose it.

"My customers generally don't agree with the plan," said Isabel 
Regent, head of the Association of Interior Pharmacies, which 
represents businesses outside the capital, Montevideo. "Besides the 
fear of robberies, enrolling in the system means a hike in costs and 
having to be up to date with all the paperwork demanded by the health 
ministry, and not all pharmacies are in a condition to do this."

Regent owns a pharmacy in Punta del Este, an exclusive seaside resort 
where tens of thousands of tourists from neighboring Argentina come 
to vacation each year. But she decided not to enroll in the 
government plan. She wouldn't be able to sell pot to foreign tourists 
because the law only allows sales to Uruguayan citizens and legal 
residents over age 18.

Pharmacies in three of the four Uruguayan states bordering Brazil 
have also declined to enroll in the plan.

No studies have been conducted to see if pharmacists would face extra 
risks from selling pot, but most feel it's just not worth the risk.

Fernando Gil of the Interior Ministry's communications office said 
that no pharmacists had reported any threats to police.

Some pharmacists say their lack of interest in participating goes 
beyond security concerns.

"I oppose as a matter of principles," said Julio Gadea. "I've been a 
pharmacist for 40 years. Pharmacies were created to sell medicines, not drugs."

Experts say delays in the marijuana initiative stem from the fact 
that no other country has attempted such an ambitious endeavor and 
that authorities still lack detailed plans and rules for regulating the market.

Several of the pharmacists interviewed said they hadn't ruled out 
signing on later if the program is successful.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom