Lucia Topolansky (Matilde Campodonico, AP)

Portrait of a First Lady: Real talk with Uruguayan senator Lucia Topolansky

Editor’s note: Cannabist editor Ricardo Baca spent a week in Montevideo, Uruguay, in August 2014 while reporting on the country’s first-of-its-kind federal marijuana legalization and regulation. Keep up with The Cannabist’s Uruguay reporting, along with Baca’s series, here.

If Uruguayan President José Mujica truly is “the world’s most radical president,” as a recent Guardian profile suggests, then his wife Lucia Topolansky is surely the world’s most radical First Lady.

There is, of course, a reason Mujica and Topolansky found each other in the first place — and have remained together over the years that have brought both hardship and triumph.

Both are tough and steadfast in their hopeful vision for Uruguay. Both fought the military dictatorship that ruled the country throughout the ’70s and ’80s, serving jail time that separated them for more than a decade. Both proudly serve in Uruguay’s current government, he as president and she as a senior senator. And both are still looked as terrorists by a certain wealthy segment of the Uruguayan population.

Sitting across from Topolansky in her modest office inside the Uruguayan Parliament building in the heart of Montevideo, you can sense a very serious history in her mournful eyes. There was her well-to-do upbringing, her dismissing that lifestyle to fight for others’ rights. There was violence, loneliness, sadness, loss — and victory, pride, happiness, love.

“Every age has its own way for showing love, and we as veterans are in another stage,” Topolansky said, looking relaxed at her desk and talking about her relationship with her husband. “It is a different thing when you are in your twenties than when you are in your seventies.”

A mature, aged love is different than a young, wreckless love — but is she still happy?

“Yes, yes,” Topolansky said. “Love and friendship are things that one has to build every day. And if you get distracted, it’s over.”

We spoke with Topolansky in August about her love, her life and her work — including her on-the-record feelings about Uruguay’s groundbreaking marijuana policy.

Cannabist: So, when did your husband first tell you that he was thinking of regulating marijuana?

Topolansky: It was a discussion that was already happening in the Uruguayan society. There were some sectors in the society that were calling for legalization. In the Chamber of Deputies a commission was formed to address the topic of addiction, and they created a proposal. Then the executive power created a proposal, too — and both projects were worked at the same time. From there came the project that is now approved.

Regulating marijuana: That time Uruguay’s President Mujica said, “It’s a complete fiction what they do in Colorado”

Cannabist: Do you recall your husband’s first feelings around marijuana regulation?

Topolansky: Mujica’s main concern are drug dealers. And while Uruguay is not a main destination, because we are few in numbers, it is a country of transit and the problem exists.

Cannabist: The problem is there. But not all Uruguayans feel that regulation is the right path.

Topolansky: This is the beginning of a road. If reality says that it doesn’t work, we can go back. And if reality says that it works, we have to think about using this same road for another universe of substances that are different, but that also take part in the Uruguayan reality.

Cannabist: Where does the marijuana law stand right now in Uruguay?

Topolansky: At this very moment the law is approved and ruled, and we made a call to all people who want to grow plants — and that will take place on land owned by the government with government security, and they need to make a proposal including price and quality and all that.

Cannabist: And once the system is implemented, registered users can purchase their marijuana at their local pharmacy. Why did you all opt for that delivery method?

Topolansky: Because in every village, no matter how small they are, there’s a pharmacy. And we will start to have a register of those who purchase at the pharmacy — and those who grow their own at home, too. And then in that universe, which was illegal until now, it becomes legal and we can talk to the people. If there is someone who puts his or her health in danger, we can lend that person a hand because we know where to find him or her.

Cannabist: It’s a big deal.

Topolansky: A new era of exploration is opening up for us.

Cannabist: But it’s still controversial.

Topolansky: It is a very controversial law. Some sectors in the society wanted to plant the idea, mostly during the election campaign, that we wanted to create a country full of addicts. But we think that little by little, by giving information to the people, they begin to deeply understand why we took this path.

Read more of our interview with Lucia Topolansky …