DRCNet Interview: Ricardo Sala, ViveConDrogas.com (Live With Drugs), Mexico 1/24/03

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Mexico City resident Ricardo Sala is the man behind the Mexican drug reform web site Live With Drugs (http://www.vivecondrogas.com). Devoted to elevating the level of official and mass media discourse on drug issues, Sala is also doing similar work on environmental issues -- a critical problem in his hometown.

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 school.

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Issue #273, 1/24/03 The Road to Mérida: Interviews with Participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Campaign | DRCNet Interview: Gustavo de Greiff, Former Attorney General of Colombia | DRCNet Interview: Luis Gómez, Andean Bureau Chief for Narco News | DRCNet Interview: Ricardo Sala, ViveConDrogas.com (Live With Drugs), Mexico | Mérida Addendum: Missing Paragraphs from Last Week's Giordano Interview | Rosenthal Medical Marijuana Trial Underway -- Medical Marijuana Supporters Stage Demos, Start Billboard Campaign | Bolivia: As Strife Continues, Armed Rebels Emerge -- Or Do They? | Latin American Anti-Prohibition Conference, February 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico | Cumbre Internacional sobre Legalización, 15-Dec Febrero, Mérida, México | Cúpula Internacional sobre Legalização, 15-Dec de Fevereiro, Mérida, México | Newsbrief: Maryland Governor to Support Medical Marijuana | Newsbrief: Southeast Asians to End Drugs | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Canadian Heroin Bust Study Finds Drug War Futile | Newsbrief: Peruvian Coca Growers Begin to Organize | Newsbrief: Mexico Disbands Anti-Drug Agency, Cites Corruption | DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator | The Reformer's Calendar
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