Uruguay president Jose Mujica
Montevideo, Uruguay – There’s a revolution happening in the streets of this sleepy South American capital — one full of controversial landmines, landmark precedents and intense international heat.
It’s the kind of uprising you can smell, and it’s a familiar scent in Colorado.
Marijuana is on the lips and minds of many Uruguayans. While the possession of cannabis has been federally legal here since 1974, the government’s recent effort to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana has thrust the quiet, modest country of 3.3 million into the international limelight.
In the coming months, Uruguay will be the only country in the world with legal, regulated recreational marijuana sales, and President José Mujica — who donates 80-90 percent of his salary to the poor and opts to live at his semi-rural flower farm instead of the opulent, more traditional presidential palace — is at the center of the lively national conversation.
In his five-year term, President Mujica has overseen the legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion and created a regulated marijuana market, igniting passionate youths to activism and alienating much of Montevideo’s wealthy elite. It’s a bold track record, especially considering that multiple polls showed only 27 percent of Uruguayans supporting the marijuana measures.
Adding to Mujica’s precarious social reform: Uruguay is less than 30 years removed from a military dictatorship that rocked the country and caused many loyal Uruguayans (Mujica included) to join rebel forces fighting the dictators. Is this modern liberal enlightenment a direct, if decades-later reaction to life under a dictator?
“You know the song ‘Time is on My Side’?” Diego Cánepa, the charismatic president of Uruguay’s National Drug Council, asked. “Well in this discussion time is on our side.
“It’s a matter of time. When the American government changes, this is what happens a few years later: The rest of the world changes, too. So in 10 years there will not be an issue of marijuana. We will have other issues that are more important than marijuana.”