|Week Online: What
is the significance of your web page's name?
Ricardo Sala: The name
is a play on the national anti-drug campaign conducted by TV Azteca in
Mexico City called "Live Without Drugs" ("Vive Sin Drogas"). That
campaign had a certain level of success, but it also illustrated the simple-minded
way the drug issue is handled by the mainstream media and mainstream politicians.
It is a very superficial sort of discourse, very similar to the "Just Say
No" campaign of Nancy Reagan in the United States. There are serious
problems with this sort of simplistic rhetoric. First, the war on
drugs has severe consequences for Mexico, including violence, corruption
and social disintegration. Second, drug addiction under prohibition
is also associated with violence. Also, we recognize that there are
problems with drug use, that drugs can be dangerous, and that they must
be handled in a more humane manner. Campaigns like "Just Say No"
or "Live Without Drugs" do not address these realities. That's why
I chose this name for this web site. I think getting this domain
name may have been my biggest success so far.
The web site's goal is to
raise the level of official and media discourse on drug policy. It
is clear that the drug prohibition regime creates violence and antisocial
situations. We need something more than "Live Without Drugs" if we
are going to find humane solutions to these problems.
WOL: Is your primary
focus on marijuana or are you concerned with all drugs?
Sala: We are concerned
about all drugs, drugs in general, including alcohol and tobacco.
Marijuana is a very important issue, because it is the most likely to be
legalized. I don't particularly want to make advocacy of drug legalization
our main emphasis, but that is the issue that excites the mass media.
And if the media is going to talk about drug policy and drug reform, we
have to change the discourse from what we have now. You should also
understand that we have a unique situation in Mexico. Here we have
indigenous people using entheogens -- peyote, mushrooms, salvia divinorum
-- for sacred religious reasons, and we have people and organizations who
defend the sacred or ritual use of these plants. In general, Mexicans
accept that many indigenous people use these plants, but it is still important
to defend these practices. I would like to see this sort of drug
use studied and reported in the media, not as a means of promoting drug
use, but as a means of explaining what drugs are and how they are used.
WOL: Does marijuana
smoking have a bad reputation in Mexico?
Sala: Marijuana is
the most widely used illegal drug in Mexico, although cocaine use is growing.
As you know, when the Colombians started moving cocaine through Mexico,
at first they paid the Mexican groups in cash, but later they started paying
in cocaine. The result is that cocaine is now widely and cheaply
available here. But as for marijuana smokers, the traditional view
-- and it is one that is still widely held -- is that "marijuanos" are
bums. "He doesn't have a job, he doesn't care about anything, he's
a marijuano." It has also traditionally been associated with lower
class people, with soldiers, people from the barrios, or farmers who would
grow and smoke it in the countryside. But things are changing now.
Many people have had first- or second-hand experience with marijuana, and
these are middle-class people. Most of the people I know who smoke are
not marijuanos or hippies; they work in advertising, film, as writers or
journalists, and many other creative professions. And musicians --
not just rock or reggae musicians, but classical musicians as well.
As in the US, it's a universal thing.
WOL: Mexico City has
seen Million Marijuana Marches in the last two years. Were you involved
with those, and what were they like? How did the police respond?
Sala: The Mexican Association
for Cannabis Studies (Associacion Mexicana de Estudios sobre Cannabis,
or AMECA) asked me to help organize those marches along with Ignacio Pineiro,
who is the organizer of a forum for alternative rock groups. In 2001,
we were not too successful; we only had 10 people. But last year,
at least 400 showed up, and we expect many more this year. As for
the police, the Federal Preventive Police (Policia Federal Preventativa),
were there at the beginning filming us. Some people broke out joints,
which made me nervous. I told people to watch out, but nothing happened.
Ignacio told me that he saw buses full of police parked nearby, but they
stayed at the buses. There were no problems with the police.
As for the march itself, it was more like a stroll in the park. We
walked around the Alameda Central, near the Bellas Artes palace in downtown
Mexico City. Very nice.
For me, this is not about
promoting drug use, but about promoting more sensible policies. Marijuana
might be nice, but it can do harm, too. We do not need to promote
drug use. Instead, we need to promote a culture where we have good
sense about drugs, whether we choose to use them or not. We in the
drug reform movement need to be careful about these issues, we need to
differentiate among these drugs and their respective harms. That's
how we will succeed, not by saying that everyone should smoke pot.
WOL: What do you think
are the actual prospects for changing the drug laws in Mexico?
Sala: It is difficult
for me to say because my specialty is the media, not the law and how it
is changed. But I will say that the faster we bring this issue into
the mainstream media and the public discourse, the faster the issue will
come to the congress. The media is developing a higher level of discussion
about drugs and the public discussion is growing louder, too. Now
we have a small political party, Mexico Possible (Mexico Posible), a feminist
party headed by Patricia Mercado, which just last week made marijuana legalization
part of their platform. The party, of course, has many other planks,
but marijuana legalization is a grabber for the media.
Things are beginning to open
up a little. Even some conservative people are beginning to be open
to talk of legalization. That was different five years ago, but since
then the cocaine problem has become much more severe. People say
the only solution is to legalize. I talk to many taxi drivers --
I consider them a barometer of social attitudes -- and now many of them
are saying we should legalize, at least marijuana. Also, with the
Internet explosion, there is more and more discussion of drug policy outside
of the mainstream media. A lot of people are getting together to
talk about it around the country, as we are doing here in Mexico City.
WOL: Why are you going
to the Out from the Shadows conference in Mérida? What do
you hope to see the conference accomplish?
Sala: I am one of the
winners of the scholarships for the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism.
I am a little anxious and nervous, but I think I will meet a lot of interesting
people. Many activists from Mexico are going. It will be very
important to strengthen the perception of the movement in Mexico and worldwide
in the media. I look forward to both the conference itself and the