President Jose Mujica says Uruguay's legal marijuana market will be much better than Colorado's, where the state doesn't track the drug once it's sold. He also took aim at the medical marijuana laws many U.S. states have adopted, saying they enable people to fake illnesses to get prescription weed.
Uruguay's system will be much tougher on drug users, and more effective in combatting illegal drug trafficking, predicted Mujica, who will visit U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House on May 12.
He says his government will license and regulate the entire marijuana business, enforcing pot possession rules as well as limits on production and sales so that violators get punished and addicts get help.
- Uruguay's pot legalization could be 'tipping point' in war on drugs
- Drug legalization debate divides the Americas
In an exclusive Associated Press interview just before releasing his country's long-awaited marijuana regulations, the former leftist guerrilla predicted that many will call him an old reactionary once they see the fine print.
"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 smokefests, 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."
Government approved plants
Uruguay plans to disseminate clones of government-approved marijuana plants, so that police can test weed possessed by licensed users and ensure that it's bona fide. Possession of marijuana lacking the genetic markers of approved plants will be criminally punished.
Mujica said "it's a complete fiction what they do in Colorado," which licenses marijuana sellers and producers but allows any adult to buy up to 28 grams at a time. In Uruguay, consumers must be licensed as well, and each purchase will be tracked to ensure they buy no more than 10 grams a week.
Mujica also criticized the medical marijuana laws passed by 21 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. "There are places where there are forms already filled out with a doctor's signature. So you go, you say that you need marijuana because your ear hurts, they fill out the form, you prescribe it yourself and with the signature of a doctor. This is brutal hypocrisy."
Mujica sat down for an AP interview in his garden after a quick ride in his Volkswagen Beetle with his wife, Sen. Lucia Topolansky, to the butcher's shop to buy some meat for dinner. He answered questions surrounded by chickens, cats and dogs, including a greyhound someone recently abandoned at the gates of the small farm on a hill overlooking Montevideo where he lives and grows flowers for sale.
It's a critical time for Mujica, who has staked his presidency on out-competing traffickers and treating marijuana more as a problem of public health than law enforcement. He also has sensitive talks pending with Obama over Guantanamo. He says he wants to help Obama close the U.S. detention centre by taking some prisoners, won't agree to Washington's demand that the former terror suspects be kept from leaving Uruguay.
"They will be able to move freely. They can leave. But they've been turned into walking skeletons. They've been destroyed by what they've gone through, physically and psychologically," Mujica said. Then he refusing to answer more questions on the topic, saying it could complicate the talks. "We've made our proposal. It's the United States that has to decide."
Obama presidency 'surprise'
Mujica described Obama as a progressive leader whose hands and feet are tied by powerful forces.
That Obama won the presidency "was a surprise, and within the limits of the U.S. political system, practically an abortion. It broke with all logic," he said. "But the way that politics have prevented him from doing anything, fencing him in so he can't do anything, so that his legacy will be that there was a black president, but he didn't do anything ... they are ferocious. Fe-RO-cious. I think they're screwing with the North American people, with the people who are least valued."
Mujica is a former guerrilla who led the armed Tupamaro movement before Uruguay's 1973-1985 dictatorship. At the time, the Tupamaro's were sworn enemies of the South American military powers supported by U.S. President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.
'The way the U.S. is going — down the road of arrogance and armies — I think they're going to lose influence.' - Uruguay President Jose Mujica
Mujica was jailed throughout the junta years, mostly in solitary confinement. Now he not only leads his country, he's an international celebrity after making passionate speeches against the consumerism and greed. Those speeches — and the marijuana plan — have earned Mujica a Nobel Peace Prize nomination this year, and many people are eager to hear Mujica's conversations with Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama.
Mujica said he's focused on business and education — he wants U.S. teachers in Uruguay. But foreign relations will come up, too.
"They have made so many mistakes. These Americans have spent an enormous amount of money on Latin America. Most of it went to those who need it least. Instead of armies, political intervention and embassy work, what we Latin Americans need is to raise our heads and our technical abilities," he said. "The way the U.S. is going — down the road of arrogance and armies — I think they're going to lose influence."
Obama has ruled out legalizing pot nationwide in the United States, but has tried not to interfere with Uruguay's marijuana plans. State Department official Roberta Jacobsen said Wednesday that there's an "honest debate" under way on the issue, and that Obama should get more credit for budgeting more than $10 billion a year on drug prevention and treatment. "You can't arrest your way out of this problem," she said.