Uruguay president Jose Mujica poses for a photo with his dog, Manuela, at his home on the outskirts of Montevideo on Friday, May 2, 2014. (Matilde Campodonico, The Associated Press)

Uruguay pot laws: President Mujica calls out Colorado law “hypocrisy”

President Jose Mujica says Uruguay’s legal marijuana market will be much better than the system in Colorado, which doesn’t track the drug after sale. And he says the medical marijuana laws many U.S. states have adopted are based on “hypocrisy” because they enable people to fake illnesses to get prescription weed.

Mujica also predicted Friday that Uruguay’s system will be much tougher on drug users, and more effective in combatting illegal drug trafficking.

Mujica, who will visit President Barack Obama in the White House on May 12, 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.

In an exclusive Associated Press interview just hours before the release of Uruguay’s long-awaited marijuana regulations, the former leftist guerrilla also 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.”

Uruguay’s rules, which Mujica plans to sign Monday, will take effect on Tuesday. The plan calls for disseminating 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 small farm on a hill overlooking Montevideo where he lives and grows flowers for sale.

Related: Uruguay allowing medical marijuana use by inmates

It’s a critical time for Mujica and the ruling Broad Front coalition, which has staked its reputation on out-competing traffickers and treating marijuana more as a problem of public health than law enforcement.

Mujica also is in sensitive talks with Obama over Guantanamo. He says he wants to help close the U.S. detention center by taking some prisoners, but won’t agree to Washington’s demand that the former terror suspects be kept inside 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. He declined to say more to avoid complicating the talks. “We’ve made our proposal. It’s the United States that has to decide.”

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 those of their people who are least valued.”

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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.

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 are eager to hear Mujica speak alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama.

Mujica said he’ll focus on business and inviting U.S. teachers to 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, but has not interfered with Uruguay’s marijuana plans. State Department official Roberta Jacobsen said Wednesday that there’s an “honest debate” 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.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com