Uruguay's Mujica is the Grumpy Old Man of Global Marijuana Legalization

Uruguay will formally unveil the regulations for its legal marijuana commerce next week, although the broad outlines are already known. The stuff will be genetically tracked from seed to sale and beyond, it'll see for less than a buck a gram, and registered consumers will only be able to buy 40 grams a month.

Jose "Pepe" Mujica. Not exactly Captain Cannabis. (wikimedia.org)
It's not exactly a free-for-all. Instead, it's a tightly regulated effort to break the black market in marijuana in the country, where it's never been a crime to smoke pot. And it's most definitely not about creating a pothead utopia, as Uruguayan President Mujica showed in an interview yesterday with the Associated Press.

In that interview, Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who spent years in prison during the time of military dictatorship in the 1970s, made clear that he's no hipster.

"We don't go along with the idea that marijuana is benign, poetic and surrounded by virtues. No addiction is good," he said. "We aren't going to promote smoke fests, bohemianism, all this stuff they try to pass off as innocuous when it isn't. They'll label us elderly reactionaries. But this isn't a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness."

Well, with all due respect, Mr. Mujica, you sound like an elderly reactionary. This is a guy who has never smoked pot, and it shows. Referring to marijuana use as an addiction puts him in the company of mad scientists like NIDA head Dr. Nora Volkow and the professional prohibitionists of Project SAM, and spouting platitudes like "no addiction is good" manages to conflate being physically addicted to things like heroin and prescription opiates to habitually puffing a pot pipe or having a cup of coffee first thing every morning.

Mujica also took some gratuitous pot shots at Colorado's legalization regime and at medical marijuana in the US. Uruguay's system will be superior to Colorado's, he said, because Colorado doesn't track pot after it is purchased.

The AP quoted Mujica as saying "it's a complete fiction what they do in Colorado," which seems to be his way of claiming that legalization there is out of control because it doesn't track individual purchasers. Well, I find it kind of creepy to think the government is keeping track of my consumption habits (like with, say, a prescription monitoring database—oops, never mind), and I have to wonder why Mujica isn't pushing for something similar for alcohol purchases in his country.

And, Mujica said, the medical marijuana laws in US states are based on "hypocrisy" because they allow people with "fake illnesses" to obtain marijuana. Well, he has something of a point there, but only to a degree. California is by far the most wide open medical marijuana state, and people do take advantage of the loosely-written law to obtain and use medical marijuana without fear of arrest.

California can remedy that by recognizing reality and just getting on with legalization, as it will almost certainly do in 2016. But the other medical marijuana states are much more restrictive, and, perversely, the more public support grows for medical marijuana, the tighter the restrictions seem to be.

So, why is Mujica being such a grumpy old man about marijuana legalization? After all, he's the guy who pushed it through in Uruguay. I think there are a couple of things going on.

First, he's a square. He's a straight, old leftist, a former revolutionary, with no experience with marijuana and no connections to the cannabis culture. He really sees this as a public health and public security problem, not as a step toward human liberation. In that sense, he's your grandpa.

But he's also moving forward with legalization in the face of strong public opposition to it in Uruguay.  In a poll last week, nearly two-thirds remained opposed to the new law, although 51% said it was better to give it a chance than to kill it at birth. I suspect many of Mujica's comments were made with that domestic audience in mind. In that sense, he's a smart politician.

And grumpy old man he may be; he's still the guy who is leading the first country to break with global pot prohibition. Adelante, companero.

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Grumpy Uruguay Pres.

Yeah , he does look like that grumpy cat . The grumpy cat pic you see online . Etc . Maybe he should try some good Sativa . What does he have to lose ? $1 per gram .

Might Not Work Black Market-Wise

If you have to show ID so the government can track every purchase you make, I don't think such a system will eliminate the black market.  The black market will just shift its focus to cater to those who don't want the government tracking their purchases.

Conflation? Hmmm...

"...to conflate being physically addicted to things like heroin and prescription opiates to habitually puffing a pot pipe or having a cup of coffee first thing every morning." Seems like an innocuous observation. But the point is not well taken. As a long time member of Narcotics Anonymous, I can recall many instances where it was marijuana which brought someone to their knees. I could not understand this. How could pot prove to be so devastating to someone? I smoked it for ten years, nearly every day, and don't recall getting to a point where I felt 'out of control'. People are different. Drugs affect people in different ways. Despite the fact that someone had such a hard time with pot, I still believe that it needs to be decriminalized. But so do opiates and other narcotics---at least in some form! Speaking of conflation: as someone who has been physically addicted to the latter, it seems to me that it is just not the big deal that it is made out to be in cf. with, say addiction to alcohol! Anyone who doesn't believe me perhaps ought to have the experiences I did: In 1987 I was admitted into a detox in Seattle for 'poly-addiction'. My bed was placed next to that of a native American fellow. He was having delirium tremens while I was kicking dope. The incredible suffering that I witnessed taking place in the bed next to me made me really grateful that I avoided the ravages of John Barleycorn! If one disagrees with me that opiates are too 'dangerous' to be further decriminalized in some (such as making simple poppy straw available for addicts to possess and consume without a prescription), then the same people would have to believe that ALCOHOL, with all of ITS evils, ALSO NEEDS TO BE ILLEGAL---or at the very least returned to being a PRESCRIPTION ONLY drug, such as it was during Alcohol Prohibition. Otherwise, they are simply deluded hypocrites.

El Presidenté José Mujica is 78-Years-Old

Old is right.  He’s of the generation of people who were successfully and cruelly denied the health benefits and pleasantries associated with marijuana consumption.  He doesn’t understand the science or the sociology of the weed. 

Uruguay will need a younger leader to loosen up Uruguay’s unnecessarily strict standards.  The resignation of Uruguay from the Single Treaty, however, remains a benchmark achievement in international drug law reform. 

Not Perverse At All

"But the other medical marijuana states are much more restrictive, and, perversely, the more public support grows for medical marijuana, the tighter the restrictions seem to be." 

It is not perverse at all once you understand the motivations of the players involved. Most legislators, both at the state and at the federal levels, are beholden to special interests whose fortunes are tied to the prohibition economy. This includes the usual suspects, such as law enforcement, drug dealers, businesses that support prohibition indirectly such as urine testing labs and rehab clinics and privatized jails, but also some very big corporate interests such as Big Pharma and Big Alcohol. The more the public demands medical marijuana, the more politicians feel they must do something while pressure grows on them to protect the lobbying groups whose special interests they are sworn to protect. So they enact legislation similar to what they have in New Jersey, where that smug bully Christie can simultaneously take credit for being "compassionate" while still successfully preventing patients from getting the medicine that they need.

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