MONTEVIDEO, July 19 (Xinhua) -- As part of Uruguay's experiment with decriminalizing marijuana use and fighting drug trafficking, the once-illegal drug became available to the public on Wednesday at some 16 pharmacies.
"You enter the pharmacy, ask for marijuana, they ask you what kind and give it to you," Gonzalo, a customer in Montevideo, told the daily El Observador. Uruguay passed a law in 2013 to legalize marijuana, so it can be grown, distributed and sold under government supervision, taking the lucrative business out of the hands of Latin America's increasingly brutal organized crime rings.
Gonzalo is one of nearly 5,000 Uruguayans or permanent residents over the age of 18 who have registered to be able to legally purchase marijuana.
Former President Jose Mujica spearheaded the bill during his term in office (2010-2015), saying drug trafficking and the war on drugs was devastating to regional economies, especially small ones such as Uruguay's.
The country "is trying out (a new) path," Mujica told a local TV channel, calling on society "to keep an open mind" in assessing the effectiveness of the experiment.
State news agency Uypress headlined its story on the start of the program "Uruguay makes history."
Earlier in the day, the state-run Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (Ircca) released the names of the pharmacies enabled to sell the drug in 11 of the country's 19 departments.
Two varieties of recreational (non-medicinal) marijuana are available at 187.04 pesos (6.67 U.S. dollars) per five-gram bag, with registered customers able to buy up to 10 grams a week or 40 grams a month.