MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay’s drug czar says every legal marijuana plant in Uruguay will be registered and tracked using radio frequency tags and genetic markers to make sure what’s grown here, stays here.
That’s a much tougher tracking system than those imposed in Colorado and Washington, which recently legalized marijuana use. Unlike those U.S. states, Uruguay wants authorities to be able to test the pot in any drug user’s possession to determine if it came from a registered, legal source.
Colorado and Washington also are trying to tag plants grown legally. But neither state plans to track the pot once sold. The states allow adults over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams), with no requirement for them to prove they got it from a legal source. Police in both states have no standard way of knowing where the product came from or how a user got it.
The rules for Uruguay’s official marijuana market will be published next month, but the first government-grown plants won’t be ready until the end of the year, National Drug Commission President Julio Calzada said in an interview with The Associated Press. It will take that long to harvest genetically identical pot from cloned plants whose product can be identified as legal by the authorities.
Uruguay will use radio-frequency tags to track plants and products, similar to the Marijuana Inventory Tracking System Colorado began using on Jan. 1 for commercially grown weed. Calzada says Uruguay uses the same technology to track beef from field to store shelves.
Colorado’s system calls for each commercial marijuana seedling to get a tag when it reaches 8 inches (20 centimeters), or gets replanted in a pot at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide. The tags emit a high-frequency radio signal with unique information that can be verified using an electronic reader from several meters away. The tags also have scannable bar codes and other identifying information.
Washington state has a different tracking system that promises to follow its commercial marijuana from seed to sale, but there’s no way to test a user’s marijuana to see where it came from.
Neither state is going as far as Uruguay in attempting to police pot use. For example, Colorado allows adults to grow their own pot at home, with no requirements to tag or register those plants, or vouch for where they came from, and adults are free to give away any pot they grow. While Colorado’s entire “seed-to-sale” tracking system provides some potential for tight regulation, there’s no way to fully ensure state-sanctioned marijuana isn’t bleeding into the black market.
Uruguay, on the other hand, is designing a registration and licensing system so complete that authorities hope not only to defeat illegal marijuana trafficking, but also to monitor drug users closely enough they can get abusers into treatment and gradually decrease consumption.
“There will be a registration system for the growing clubs and for self-growing. The person will have to go and declare what he’s planting. The information about each plant will remain in a database. What we want is to know that what’s being planted here isn’t leaving the country,” Calzada said Thursday night.
“When a home grower registers his plant, we’ll do an analysis and provide a card with a certain code. And what we’ll inspect will be these codes, which we’ll follow by radio frequency. This is perfectly doable.”