You’re saying Uruguay?

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Journalism, Opinion, Politico, Travel

Yes, you should know about Uruguay.

The year was 1994. The United States had won its bid to host The World Cup, and I attended an exhibition match between Uruguay and the U.S. at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. I was 12 years old, and I loved futbol. I had never heard of Uruguay at that time, and it certainly never donned on me that it would be a place I’d someday visit as a resident of a neighboring country. I don’t remember the outcome of the game but I do remember two things vividly: 1) Uruguay had these awesome baby-blue uniforms and  2) I felt like I had to stand for an eternity during their national anthem. The “National Anthem of Uruguay“, also known by its first line “Orientales, la Patria o la Tumba“, is the longest national anthem in the world in terms of duration, with 105 bars of music (about six minutes long).

18 years later, I finally got my revenge for that excruciatingly long anthem by infiltrating the borders of Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo. The first thing I noticed upon my arrival, was that a vast amount of people carry around a liter sized bottle with a small, wooden cup, that has a silver straw to drink out of. The cup is filled to the brim with mate (tea) and locals sip on the stuff all day.  The second thing I noticed, was that there seemed to be a very prevalent marijuana culture. Walking down the streets of the city, I would occasionally catch whiffs of marijuana in the air, and people seemed to smoke openly without a hint of caution. I was surprised by this, and oblivious to the fact that the country was in the process of fully legalizing marijuana. Yes, Uruguay plans to fully legalize, regulate and control distribution of  marijuana. Technically, it is already legal, and this isn’t some political gimmick or experimental joke either. Uruguay is one of Latin America’s safest countries, and known to be a “trailblazer” in regards to liberal lawmaking. The quality of life in the country is extremely high – boasting one of the highest GDP’s per capita globally. Crime is low. It is safe. And NO, Uruguay has no intention of becoming the Amsterdam of South America. The government intends to grow the grass themselves, and sell it in drug stores/pharmacies throughout the country. To prevent “drug tourism”, it will only be available for sale to Uruguayan citizens. I’m truly impressed by their logical approach towards marijuana use. Why allow a black market to control a drug that is arguably safer than alcohol, certainly safer than cigarettes, and potentially full of health benefits?

So why haven’t you heard about this in mainstream media? Well, many outside governments are not fond of the idea, and others want to “wait and see” what happens, as Uruguay goes through the motions and implements the new concept and approach. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens on the ballots in the United States in November, as Colorado and California will vote to possibly pass legislation to legalize and control distribution, and the federal government (likely) will try to overrule or step in on some level. However, it is possible that the big wigs in Washington sit back and see how it pans out if legalized in either state. No matter what, even if passed, there are many legal hurdles that would need to be met before it would actually go into effect. That said, Uruguay could be an excellent example of how to make the concept work, and should be observed by policymakers internationally to see how the process fares in the tiny South American nation. After all, billions are wasted fighting the “war on drugs”, which most rational humans acknowledge is failing miserably. A “war” on cannabis seems downright ridiculous, especially considering the fact that alcohol and tobacco are legal. When you look at the fact that alcohol is proven to cause more disease, crime, violence and death related accidents as a result of consumption, it is outright absurd to treat marijuana as a criminal drug. This isn’t a pro-marijuana statement, it is a pro-logic one. American jails are filled with non-violent, drug-only offenders that are not a threat to society and truly do not deserve to be locked up for minor possession and personal use. The hypocrisy of marijuana being illegal, when the corporate drug dealers are pumping kids full of harmful drugs such as Adorol and numbing adults with psychotic drugs that change the chemicals in your brain such as Xanax, seems downright absurd. While decriminalization has been a major argument for years, and an approach many states have, or are taking, why not consider regulated legalization? After all, I don’t see the sense in tax dollars being wasted on busting and prosecuting marijuana smokers who have a reputation for passivity. You don’t exactly hear about people being hopped up on marijuana and committing violent crimes.

That said, Uruguay has taken a very liberal and proactive approach to allowing responsible and regulated marijuana use into its society. Uruguay’s President, José Mujica, and his entire cabinet, signed onto the proposed legislation, which aims to take over an illegal marijuana trafficking business estimated to be worth between $30 and $40 million a year. The drafted law sitting in congress declares, “The drug war is a failure and marijuana is only mildly addictive, unlike cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and psychotropic drugs.” The government goes on to clarify their stance reporting goals which include, “The normalization and full social acceptance of marijuana use so that consumers aren’t stigmatized, nor treated as criminals.” It seems very difficult to counter-argue the the sensibility behind the idea of legalization, and Uruguay has embraced the concept. You have to admire the leadership of a country whose President spent 14 years as a political prisoner and donates 90% of his salary to the poor and to small business entrepreneurs. The “world’s poorest President” seems mighty rich in honor. Perhaps this is a model worth following?

I say bravo Uruguay.

While this article is focused on legalization of marijuana, there is far more to the country. It is a wonderful tourist destination and well worth visiting. 

All rights reserved, copyrighted property of author David Cornish. 

  1. […] you should know about Uruguay. The year was 1994. The United States had won its bid to host Thesource This entry was posted in south_america by poster. Bookmark the […]

  2. leonardo torresini says:

    Mr. Cornish, Have you ever heard that Mujica gives back 90% of his salary to many social programs?
    Have you heard that Lula (Brazil’s ex pres.) has accumulated 2 billion dolars since the beginning of his first term?
    Guess which of these two countries is more filled up with characters like Dirty Harry???

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