Lucia Topolansky (Matilde Campodonico, AP)

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

Cannabist: And none of this applies to tourists.

Topolansky: This law is only for national people and organizations. A foreigner cannot apply to this purchasing system we are offering. We have studied the Dutch system and what is happening in Portugal, Spain and some states in the United States, and we came to the conclusion that the Dutch system, which is completely open, creates other issues.

Cannabist: What kinds of issues?

Topolansky: For example, in some states in the United States they justify (marijuana reform) with the excuse that it is a medical issue, that they need a prescription — and we know that it’s not that way, so we prefer to be more frank on that matter.

Cannabist: And yet you all have created your own marijuana system by learning about others across the globe, right?

Topolansky: Yes, and it is a good thing that one can look at what is happening around the world because you can always learn something. Some journalists and people interested in this matter came here from a wide variety of places — even from China, they came asking us about the law, because China has a province where cannabis grows likes this, and they were interested in how we will handle that. We would be proud if our modest law could help other people in the world.

Cannabist: Have you ever used marijuana?

Topolansky: I have never smoked tobacco or any other substance in my life. But I realize that one has to talk with people involved in that reality. Democracy starts by listening, and well, the worst thing is not to look at reality, right?

Cannabist: You’ve said before, “I’ve always been a fighter.” And I wonder what makes you that way.

Topolansky: When I was young I realized that the best thing in this world is to try to do something for others. And that has been my path to this day.

Cannabist: How young? I mean, were you just a small 4-year-old child who was naturally driven to giving and helping?

Topolansky: No. But when I was in the 5th grade the Cold War was happening. Two scientists were arrested in the United States, the Rosenberg couple, and they were accused of spying for the Soviet Union. They were condemned to death by the electric chair. Our teacher asked all of the children to write a letter to President Truman, asking him not to kill them. I sought the help of many children for that letter, and that was my first militant action — and also my first frustration because, finally, they were killed. But then I realized that there were a lot of things to do. And I lived in the time of the Liberation Theology and the influence of the Brazilian bishops. And in my early years in the Catholic church, which I later left, my social militancy had begun. And there is a moment in social militancy that one asks herself the question about politics, so it is a continuation.

Cannabist: And you still remember the letter you wrote to Truman?

Topolansky: The letter was written by the teacher. We collected our signatures. Yes, we signed it. I believed that if an important president received a letter from all the children in the world that we would be more important than the president himself, that he would listen to us. I later realized that the world is a bit more complicated than that.

Video: Vice documentary — “I’m smoking weed with the president of Uruguay”

Cannabist: And now you’re an important senator — and married to the president. Do you read all of your correspondence?

Topolansky: I read all the emails. I also work with a team, and we read and classify all the letters, but I try to answer all the people who write to me, just out of respect. If every 5 years I’m asking for their vote, I need to maintain contact during that 5 years. For example (she picked up a handwritten letter that was open on her desk), I receive a letter like this one, right? She’s expressing a problem. Well, I study the problem. I try to look for a solution inside the current regulations. Sometimes people get lost inside the state system, sometimes they get lost in the procedures to follow, sometimes they get lost and don’t know what they must do. And if it’s a problem beyond my capabilities, a problem that I cannot solve, sometimes I give advice — but I always respond. The most important thing to people is to know that they were heard, beyond the final outcome. And many times I receive a letter saying that the problem got solved. And I’m saving these letters. They are part of my memory.

Cannabist: That makes sense. And what about your personal life — what’s an ideal day like outside of the office?

Topolansky: Yes, I’ll be at my house. I do not understand people who say they get bored in their house. I have never been bored in my house. I always have something to do, at the field or inside the house, a book to read, music to listen to, a neighbor to visit. We live in an area with farms. And farmers are very particular in every spot in the world. We have some things in common, because working with soil is a way of living. Beyond the product that we produce, we are inside a very fragile world sometimes. In the area where I am, there are vegetables, fruits and vines are produced.

Cannabist: And at your house?

Topolansky: At my house we grow flowers. But as a whole in my neighborhood, everything grows. And if a hail or very strong wind comes we are always helping out a neighbor. So we can understand what happens to other farmers in the world. They are not so different.

Cannabist: Do you like getting your hands dirty working in the soil?

Topolansky: Yes, yes, yes. There is an enormous reward, because soil gives so much. There is nothing more wonderful than eating something that you have planted.

Cannabist: I agree.

Topolansky: At my house, besides flowers that are for commercial production, we plant food for four families. A tomato from my house has a different taste than a tomato from a store. It is tastier.

Cannabist: So when’s your favorite season?

Topolansky: I like summer, because I like the heat. But it is a country with a mild climate. But every season has a different flower in production. Between March 1 and August 10 our strengths are gladiolus. After that we begin with chrysanthemums, several varieties.

Cannabist: Do you like talking about flowers more than you like talking about politics?

Topolansky: They are different things, and they are all part of life, so I like to speak of both things. We have been in jail for many years. When we left prison we started to work on that land. It gave us food to eat, and what’s built there came out of that land, so it is wonderful.

Read more of our interview with Lucia Topolansky …