The Pot President


Last week, Uruguay released the details of its legalization program:

Uruguayans will be allowed to buy enough marijuana to roll about 20 joints a week at a price well below the black market rate, the government said on Tuesday as it detailed a new law legalizing the cannabis trade. … It says Uruguayans will be able to buy up to 10 grams of marijuana a week at between $0.85 and $1 dollar a gram, a low price designed to compete with black-market cannabis that mostly comes from Paraguay. Activists who have backed the measure said legalized marijuana would be high-grade and affordable.

In a profile of President Jose Mujica, who also goes by “Pepe,” Krishna Andavolu found the 78-year-old former guerrilla to be both charming and politically savvy – and fine with lighting up:

I asked Pepe whether he minded if I smoked a joint. I fully understood the implications of smoking weed in front of a head of state, but of all presidents, I thought, he’d be game. After my translator relayed my request, Pepe smiled broadly and exclaimed, “Por favor!” I sparked up a joint, and Pepe shrugged and smiled. “I have no prejudice,” he said, “but let me give you something juicier to smoke.”

He got up, went back into his house, and emerged with a cigar. “This is a cigar given to me by Fidel Castro.” His wife, Lucía, followed behind and showed me a portable humidor, a large box shaped like a house filled with Castro-length Cohibas. …

To be clear, Uruguay’s legalization is not aimed at allowing bozos like me to get high indiscriminately. It’s a serious legislative experiment designed to dismantle what pretty much everyone agrees is a horrid failure of public policy: the war on drugs. And while Pepe has an almost too-good-to-be-true avuncular charm, he’s a carefully calculating statesman with a keen sense of how to capture the limelight. A small country of 3.4 million legalizing weed is, on the global scale, a tiny occurrence, but it might just be that crucial example, the hiding-in-plain-sight truth, that all it takes is bold decisions and bold leadership to turn ideas into action.

Mujica had little to say about marijuana when he met with Obama on Monday, but he had some harsh words for American tobacco companies:

“In the world per year, 8 million people are dying from smoking. And that is more than – worth more than World War I or II. It is murder! We are in an arduous fight, very arduous. And we must fight against very strong interests. Governments must not be involved in private litigation, but here we are fighting for life,” said Mujica.

In 2006, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to enact a ban on smoking in enclosed public places. The South American nation requires large health warnings on tobacco packages.  But US tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Uruguay over the rules for $25 million at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Alfonso Serrano has more:

The world’s largest tobacco company argues that a 2009 Uruguayan anti-tobacco law – which requires that graphic health warnings cover 80 percent of cigarette packets – violates its intellectual property rights. The Uruguayan daily El País last week stated that Philip Morris’s goal is to make the tiny nation a “test case” to keep other countries – the company is also suing Australia and Thailand – from implementing restrictive tobacco policy.

Previous Dish on Uruguay herehere, and here.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama (R) shakes the hand of Uruguay President Jose Mujica Cordano before a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House May 12, 2014. By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)