Herb contra leaf
June 21, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Uruguay looking to sell marijuana to combat cocaine. 'The unusual idea, announced Wednesday by Uruguayan officials, would be one of the boldest steps yet among Latin American leaders to alter a war on drugs driven solely by prohibition, which increasingly is resisted in the Americas as a failed strategy.' 'Under the plan backed by President Jose Mujica’s leftist administration, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana and only to adults who register on a government database, letting officials keep track of their purchases over time. Profits would reportedly go toward rehabilitating drug addicts.'

'“It’s a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself,” Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters late Wednesday.

Fernandez said the bill would soon be sent to Congress, which is dominated by Mujica’s party, but that an exact date had not been set. If approved, Uruguay’s national government would be the first in the world to directly sell marijuana to its citizens. Some local governments do so.'

'Overburdened by clogged prisons, some Latin American countries have relaxed penalties for drug possession and personal use and distanced themselves from the tough stance pushed by the United States four decades ago when the Richard Nixon administration declared the war on drugs.

“There’s a real human drama where people get swept up in draconian drug laws intended to put major drug traffickers behind bars, but because the way they are implemented in Latin America, they end up putting many marijuana consumers behind bars,” said Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.'

'Uruguay has put forward its plan as Latin American leaders express growing frustration with the traditional war on drugs, arguing it has failed to kill off the drug trade or ease violence. Earlier this year, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina suggested decriminalizing drugs. The president of Colombia and other leaders raised the idea at an April summit in Cartagena, spurring a new study of alternative strategies; Brazil and Argentina are already weighing drug decriminalization laws.

Unswayed, President Obama has brushed off the idea of legalizing drugs, saying it isn’t the answer. The United States also has resisted carving out exceptions in the drug war, opposing a Bolivian attempt to exempt the traditional practice of chewing coca leaves from a U.N. convention on narcotics. The Uruguayan idea is expected to face the same fears of creating a slippery slope.'
posted by VikingSword (46 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
No, see, the marijuana is for coming down and the cocaine is for ramping up, you need them both when you're rolling E.

Seriously, great plan and all, but the idea that legal pot is supposed to quell the cravings of cocaine addicts seems absurd to me. Booze is legal, doesn't stop people from doing heroin.
posted by spitbull at 1:24 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Man, I so wish the world would legalize drugs and regulate them like we do with alcohol. It would remove the massive profits that dealers realize and eliminate the murderous gangs. Have we learned nothing from the lessons of Prohibition? Why is alcohol not a Moral Issue but other drugs are?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:28 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


You register with the government so they can track your marijuana purchases? That's not going to make anybody's pot paranoia any better.
posted by Infinity_8 at 1:28 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mexico hasn't been obliterated yet. Wait.
posted by PapaLobo at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is alcohol not a Moral Issue but other drugs are?

Other drugs are often abused by the poor and colored.
posted by Renoroc at 1:34 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Watch cocaine use continue to rise, so legalization opponents can point at this strategy like "See, see??? Legalizing pot DOESN'T WORK, LOOK AT URUGUAY MORE COKE THAN EVER"

Great to hear they've found a way to regulate pot use, but regulate because you want to stop throwing non-violent drug users in prison, not to "combat cocaine".
posted by windbox at 1:35 PM on June 21, 2012


Reading the opening headline, I couldn't help but think:

"Well, replacing [hard drug] for pot worked for [List of People] I know -- why can't it work at the macro level too?"

Reading the articles hasn't changed my mind.

Booze is legal, doesn't stop people from doing heroin.

Well, yes and no. It won't help you kick, but if you have already quit and you want to get not-sober, it does help to have other options. (Obviously, this is a matter of personal opinion and the exact opposite thing you will hear from many former addicts, each with their own good reasons.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:36 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, great plan and all, but the idea that legal pot is supposed to quell the cravings of cocaine addicts seems absurd to me.

In fact, it does work for some people. I personally know at least two people who got themselves into trouble with alcohol and cocaine who kicked their habits by using marijuana as a substitute. Both of them are now fully productive members of society with good jobs and, from the outside at least, happy lives. AA and NA don't condone it, but I say, whatever works.

But I don't think this policy change is an endorsement of the Pot Cure, but instead a re-prioritizing of resources.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


You register with the government so they can track your marijuana purchases? That's not going to make anybody's pot paranoia any better.
Reminds me of this: "And I go, why don't you get your own license? And they say 'i don't want my name on a list' Yeah it ends up on a list, of people who can buy pot"

Anyway, the social stigmas very a lot from country to country (and from region to region in the US) There may still be people who prefer to buy illicitly, but what you might see is people like that reporters friends who just pester their 'licensed' friends for weed, rather then using a whole illegal supply chain managed by violent gangs.

It's illegal to sell alchohol to minors, but you don't hear about a lot of violence from rival gangs fighting over which liquor stores to hang out in front of so they can buy beer for teenagers.
posted by delmoi at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is it really a bill, or is it just an idea being touted by the executive branch? Does this actually have traction in the Uruguayan legislature? The news article sounds a bit sensationalist.
posted by crapmatic at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2012


As far as marijuana curing cocaine addiction, who knows. But the thing is: you could actually do a broad based experiment to see if it works or not.
posted by delmoi at 1:43 PM on June 21, 2012


What I'm confused about is: will the Uruguayan government be selling weed via private growers, or is the government actually controlling the means of production?

Likewise, does someone mind explaining how this proposal differs from the legislation that will be voted on in Colorado and Washington in November?
posted by lobbyist at 1:49 PM on June 21, 2012


Jose Mujica has just become part of the problem.
posted by telstar at 1:51 PM on June 21, 2012


Booze is legal, doesn't stop people from doing heroin.

Are you sure about that? It would actually be an interesting question to investigate from when both booze and heroin and other opium derivatives were legal in the U.S. Of course, it might be difficult to adjust for changes in public perception like opium having once been seen as the drug of choice for degenerate Orientals which they used to seduce white women or modern clinical conceptions of addiction.
posted by XMLicious at 1:55 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Booze is legal, doesn't stop people from doing heroin

Or looked at another way, Heroin is illegal, but it doesn't stop people from doing heroin.
posted by empath at 1:56 PM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Sounds like they are starting to implement a program that treats addiction and drug abuse as a medical problem and not a criminal problem. Sounds right to me.
posted by snaparapans at 2:15 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, I so wish the world would legalize drugs and regulate them like we do with alcohol. It would remove the massive profits that dealers realize and eliminate the murderous gangs. Have we learned nothing from the lessons of Prohibition? Why is alcohol not a Moral Issue but other drugs are?

Good luck convincing China. I mean, after their experience with the Opium Wars, I don't see the War on Drugs abating any time soon. As the country grows richer, drug use is growing. It doesn't help that south of China is both the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent.

I speculate that if ever the US stars to step down it's War on Drugs policy is when China will start stepping up. It hits the sweet spot, combining corrupt interests,
posted by FJT at 2:17 PM on June 21, 2012


It hits the sweet spot, combining corrupt interests,

...and historical legacy. Sorry, early post.
posted by FJT at 2:17 PM on June 21, 2012


Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this exactly why Amsterdam "legalized" pot (or at least created their tolerance policy), to combat more dangerous drugs. If so, it seemed to work for them.
posted by Twain Device at 2:19 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay, so upon reading, I see that the government is directly involved. Edit button and all that.
posted by Twain Device at 2:20 PM on June 21, 2012


Hmm, I may be missing something, but according to those articles, the main point isn't to get cocaine users to switch to pot (although the LA times suggests that could happen), but to deprive drug cartels of the profits from the marijuana black market, and use those profits to fund drug rehabilitation efforts.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I'm confused about is: will the Uruguayan government be selling weed via private growers, or is the government actually controlling the means of production?

I wondered that, too. The article is short on details about the production side, saying just that they'll have to keep an eye on farmers to make sure too much isn't grown (as it would then be exported).

And that seems like the weak spot in this plan; there's too much government control here, still, and that will leave room for organized crime to continue to thrive in the Uruguayan marijuana market (if they grow there now, I don't know).

Eh, it's still a win; they'll be able to get some taxes from domestic consumption and they won't waste as many resources (and lives) pointlessly incarcerating pot users. That's a win. But the big victory would come from truly disrupting the revenue sources for organized crime, and it doesn't sound like that is going to happen.
posted by kprincehouse at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2012


I, for one, am looking forward to the day when, "Whoa, man, hand over your weed card" is the common response to pot culture transgressions.

E.g., Jose didn't bring back enough chips for everyone, or smoked your last bowl, or free-based off of your mom's nice butter-knives: "Jose, hand over your weed card."
posted by resurrexit at 2:40 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I should think that the production side would be the greatest benefit of the plan. By creating a legal market for marijuana, they give farmers a profitable alternative to coca. Illegal drugs might still be more profitable, but growing marijuana would make decent money and not get the farmer in trouble with the law.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:41 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Other drugs are often abused by the poor and colored.

I was ready to get all "so the poor aren't alcohol abusers?" and then I realized that a) it would actually undermine my point, and b) I missed the tag. You make an excellent point.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:48 PM on June 21, 2012


Sigh. I missed the <sarcasm> tag.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:49 PM on June 21, 2012


On a related note, here in the US there is this video of the DEA Administrator getting grilled by a senator sitting in House Judiciary Committee hearings yesterday. I'm not sure if that's just regular politics or indicative of a larger discontent about drug policy.
posted by crapmatic at 3:13 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in the US: Top DEA agent won’t admit heroin more harmful than marijuana

On preview: the article refers to the video crapmatic just posted.
posted by homunculus at 3:16 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good luck convincing China. I mean, after their experience with the Opium Wars, I don't see the War on Drugs abating any time soon. As the country grows richer, drug use is growing. It doesn't help that south of China is both the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent.
I don't know much about the situation there, I think I saw a comment on metafilter from someone who openly smoked weed in China and said people didn't even know what it was. I think part of what I've heard is that the Chinese authorities don't really care that much about what foreigners do, so that could be part of it.

Looking at this wikipedia article there were 31k drug arrests in China in 2003, compared to 1.3 million in the US in 2009. Per capita, that's 181 times as many arrests in the US.

The other key difference is that the US will use a lot of diplomatic pressure to get the rest of the world to follow our policies. US diplomacy is a major factor in other countries engaging in the drug war. China tends not to give a crap what the rest of the world does, so long as it doesn't affect their bottom line.
posted by delmoi at 3:17 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Homunculus: your video is actually Jared Polis's grilling. Crapmatic's is Steve Cohen. They both hammered her yesterday.
posted by BecauseIHadFiveDollars at 4:11 PM on June 21, 2012


Metafilter: free-based off of your mom's nice butter-knives
posted by symbioid at 5:17 PM on June 21, 2012


Oh god, that Steve Cohen grilling is AMAZING... "You're trying to answer the question like I'm Jeff Sessions..." BURN!
posted by symbioid at 5:22 PM on June 21, 2012


Hmm, I may be missing something, but according to those articles, the main point isn't to get cocaine users to switch to pot (although the LA times suggests that could happen), but to deprive drug cartels of the profits from the marijuana black market, and use those profits to fund drug rehabilitation efforts.

Yep. And to my mind, that makes this a fantastic idea. Maybe some coke users will switch to weed in the bargain, who knows? But being able to channel marijuana revenue into treatment for coke addicts? Sign me up.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:44 PM on June 21, 2012


... to deprive drug cartels of the profits from the marijuana black market, and use those profits to fund drug rehabilitation efforts.

Just as an aside, are Big Pharma's profits surtaxed to pay for prescription drug abuse rehabilitation programs?
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:45 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just spent six months living in Montevideo, and here is what I can report.

Uruguay, and especially Montevideo, has a huge problem with a drug called "pasta base". It's users are baseros, and baseros are exactly like crackheads in the US in terms of they way the act and social stigma. I was close friends with a basero, and by a strange coincidence I happened to live in the epicenter of the basero community, and so I am very well acquainted with the effects this drug has upon Uruguayan society.

In short, this drug has really fucked things up. Kind of like how crack undermined progress in African American communities, pasta base is threatening to turn back a tide of social, political, and economic progress in Montevideo. How can pasta base screw up a whole country? Here's how.

Uruguay is 'the switzerland of south america', which is to say, it is the banking capital, and it has a very stable society. Buenos Aires, across the rioplatense, has more money and banks overall, but per capita and for international importance Montevideo is the place to bank. Montevideo is also the capital of Mercosur, which is like the EU of south america.

Montevideo is also very old by american standards, and it's Old City (Ciudad Vieja) is where all the banks are. Ciudad Vieja is also where the Port is... and it's also where the baseros live. It's the beating heart of the country, and it's utterly dichotomitic; it's an international financial capital where the banks stand literally next to the slums.

Ciudad Vieja is also where the cruise ships dock, as do the ferries from Argentina. Uruguay's other economy, after banking, is tourism. And Uruguay is very worried about getting a bad reputation in Brazil or Argentina because they have so much riding on these countries sending their wealthy to the famed Uruguayan beaches.

Living in Ciudad Vieja, I saw tourists getting mugged every day, two, three, four times daily. I saw bricks thrown through buses, I saw buses attacked by gangs, perhaps once a week. I saw knife fights almost daily. Pistol whippings, animal attacks, and lots of other crazy shit I've never seen in the US. And all of these problems are new, and all of them are caused by baseros. This is a very important dialog Uruguay is having with itself right now, of what to do about pasta base, lest it start to scare off the tourists, the financiers, and the families still brave enough to live in the most important district of the entire country.

Legalizing marijuana will absolutely do nothing to the baseros. They smoke weed anyways; it's cheap, available, and de facto legal already. In fact, everyone smokes marijuana; I've seen a police officer puff a joint while on duty. It's the selling of marijuana through gov't dispensaries which is the stroke of genius here - Uruguay stands to make a lot of money off of this. And they're proposing to spend that money on basero problem, on holistic drug-addiction-as-a-disease treatment, which is something the country needs badly. That, and perhaps more police, especially at night, when Ciudad Vieja becomes this weird and dangerous post-apocalyptic like setting, complete with steel blast shutters sealing off every ground level entrance and window.

Not to mention the huge tourist boom marijuana sales will bring. Already my facebook is afire with people talking about planning vacations in Uruguay... and these are my north american friends. You can bet Argentinos and Brasilenos are super excited at the chance to be able to legally purchase, and the smoke, high quality weed on these already famous beaches.

My opinion is that this is an excellent proposition. Jose Mujica is like the Colombo of international leaders.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:45 PM on June 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


I just looked up "pasta base", and according to wikipedia it is basically semi-processed cocaine. So basically it's a cheap, addictive drug with a short high... like cocaine, but cheaper. So nothing terribly new.

(which has no bearing on whether or not it's a problem in Uruguay, though I suspect it just amplifies problems rather than causes them)
posted by flaterik at 2:14 AM on June 22, 2012


windbox: Watch cocaine use continue to rise, so legalization opponents can point at this strategy like "See, see??? Legalizing pot DOESN'T WORK, LOOK AT URUGUAY MORE COKE THAN EVER"
You imply with your wording that legalization opponents can sensibly control cocaine use. They could take advantage of accidental swings, but they can't engineer it.
Great to hear they've found a way to regulate pot use, but regulate because you want to stop throwing non-violent drug users in prison, not to "combat cocaine".
Personally, I don't care why they make the laws so much as what is the result, but that's not even why they're doing it.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:31 AM on June 22, 2012


This has an interesting potential about it.

If enough South American countries followed suit, massive amounts of drug money (beginning illegally in the US & other markets, but becoming legal transactions within their own borders) will flow into government coffers. Legal growers could become a lucrative cottage industry, but of course corruption will make billionaire legal drug lords out of a few corporations.

But this would (possibly) have two resultant effects:

1. Money flowing to the current drug lords would plummet. Deprived of their life blood, they would be much less dangerous.

2. Nothing the US could do would stem the flow of marijuana into the country. It would still be illegal here (for the meantime), but the DEA would be powerless beginning 3 miles off our coastline. Currently, they work with other nations, and provide financial incentives for cooperation, but clearly Uruguay is saying "Our survival is more important than international kickbacks."
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 AM on June 22, 2012


this brings a few things to mind:
it reminds me of when gin use was considered such a huge social problem in 18th century england, that the government finally licensed and regulated gin distilleries, in addition to promoting beer in public houses as a healthier alternative. so we have this problem of "drug x that causes great harm to society", followed by regulation and promotion of less harmful alternatives. that doesn't mean alcohol abuse doesn't still cause huge problems, nor will drug abuse ever stop causing problems, but it seems that trying to wipe out use entirely and jail everyone and their grandma causes more harm than good.
as for marijuana, it's important to note it only became banned in america after the newspaper magnate william randolph hearst fought to get hemp banned entirely, as he feared it as a cheap alternative to wood pulp for paper. i have friends who smoke pot who always argue how safer it is for you than alcohol, i don't know if any studies have been done comparing the two, but i does seem that pot smokers tend not to get violent and roudy when high, nor do they develop beer guts and gin blossoms.
as for america's war on drugs, it's important to remember that we have a for-profit prison system, and drug users are its cash cow. as long as someone is making good money off of it, it's not going away. a solution to this would be educating the populace about both (that maybe non-violent drug users should be treated with rehabilitation, not prison; and that maybe a for-profit prison system isn't healthy for society in general).
posted by camdan at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2012


Drunks getting violent and rowdy may just be a cultural thing. Or maybe not.
posted by XMLicious at 2:06 PM on June 22, 2012


XMLicious: Drunks getting violent and rowdy may just be a cultural thing. Or maybe not.
If so, it's a culture that extends to elephants.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:13 PM on June 23, 2012


Homunculus: your video is actually Jared Polis's grilling. Crapmatic's is Steve Cohen. They both hammered her yesterday.

Ah, okay. It seems Polis saw this on Boing Boing (who got it from MeFi; I assume Doctorow saw this thread before it was deleted) and is pleased with the exposure.
posted by homunculus at 10:19 AM on June 24, 2012


Can we get a "marijuana" tag? Or "Uruguay"? Is there an easy(ier) way to add or suggest a a tag myself?

We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself

Ya think, Defense Minister? (Interesting disagreement between the singular and plural there...)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:05 AM on June 25, 2012


We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself.

No disagreement. The sentence is correct.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2012


Daily chart: Which countries have the highest rates of cannabis use?
posted by homunculus at 12:13 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


We'll catch you yet, Italy!!
posted by mrgrimm at 12:52 PM on June 27, 2012


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