The Architect of Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Speaks Out

"Current drug policy is disastrous. Doing nothing is not an option anymore," says Julio Calzada, one of the men behind Uruguay's drug revolution.

Julio CalzadaJunta Nacional de DrogasLegalize it!” The call for drug policy reform has moved from flower-power communes into the halls of power. Starting next year Uruguayans will be able to buy marijuana through the government. "A society without drugs is a utopia. It's better to regulate the existing market than leave it to organized crime,” says Julio Calzada, one of the architects of the Uruguayan drug revolution.

Hip hop and reggaeton is blaring from loudspeakers down the kind of dimly-lit street avoided by those who can. This is the centre of Montevideo, but many young people attending the street party have descended from the cantegriles, the notorious slums of Uruguay’s capital. Beer bottles, boxed wine, and generous amounts of joints make their way through the crowd. What you smoke you will only find out when it is in your lungs. Sometimes it is cannabis, sometimes it is the destructive and highly addictive cocaine paste that is especially popular among young people in the slums.

Julio Calzada knows this world well. Trained as a sociologist, he spent 24 years working with disadvantaged young people in the country’s slums. “That they come into contact with cocaine paste while looking for soft drugs is particularly problematic,” said Calzada, who is now Secretary-General of Uruguay’s National Drug Council, the agency in charge of implementing the new law, which was passed by the country's Senate on December 10.

Calzada is working across multiple ministries and reports directly to President Jose Mujica. When the president, a charismatic 78-year-old, took office in 2010, he didn’t look for career politicians. The former Marxist guerrilla appointed idealists who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Mujica has already made huge reforms whilst in office, including the legalization of gay marriage and abortion. But he will almost certainly go down in history as the president that legalized cannabis.

Calzada exudes the same down-to-earth attitude as his boss. “Call me Julio,” he says, pouring two glasses of water. It’s seven o’ clock and we are the last people left on the eighth floor of the Torre Ejecutiva (Executive Tower). “To be clear,” he says, “this is Uruguay’s answer. We’re not developing a generally applicable model and we don’t want to tell anyone what to do.”

The interview below was translated as faithfully as possible by the authors from the original Spanish.

Q: Uruguay will be the first country in the world to regulate marijuana production from plant to end-user, will the state be manufacturing marijuana?

A: No. Companies can get a license to cultivate if they meet all the criteria. However, this won’t be a free market. The government will control the entire production and determine the price, quality, and maximum production volume. Each household may also have six plants for their own consumption.  Users can also join a cannabis club, where consumers can exchange information amongst themselves. Clubs will be allowed to grow bigger amounts of plants.

Q: And how about smokers who cannot or will not grow their own, will they be able to buy it, too?

A: In the pharmacy. Drug use belongs in health care. The pharmaceutical sector manages all medications where health risks are applicable and is therefore the logical distribution point. People will be able to go there for both medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. Adult residents in Uruguay will be able to buy a monthly maximum of forty grams.

Q: Why does the government need to be involved with this?

A: In Uruguay, there are about 120,000 daily-to-occasional cannabis users. At present, these people are buying from criminals and strengthening local mafia. If the government can take control of that market, criminal organizations will lose their main source of income.

Q: The going rate for a gram here is a U.S. dollar, that’s pretty cheap.

A: That's the going price on the black market, which we need to compete with. Not more expensive, but not cheaper either. Research shows that consumers prefer the legal market to the black market if they have a choice. The quality is better and it's safer, because they no longer have to deal with criminals.

Q: The President of the Supreme Court, Jorge Pino Ruibal, thinks it should be given away for free, so long as people register as users.

Jack Davies is a freelance journalist based in Belgrade. His work has been featured in Vice magazine and on The Information Daily. He can be found on Twitter under the handle @jackoozell

Jan De Deken is a freelance Latin America correspondent and regular contributor to some of the main news media in Belgium and the Netherlands. Follow Jan on Twitter at @JanDeDeken

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  • ||

    Looking at the picture it would appear that Uruguay has roads. Unpossible.

  • ||

    The have just begun their descent into anarcho-capitalist Somaliazaton, give them a few years.

  • kevin_hunt||

    Why was marijuana not a problem until the government of the U.S. made it a 'problem' in 1937? Could it have something to do with the govt wanting CONTROL of the population and new jobs for out-of-work alcohol prohibition agents?

    "There is positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as medicinal agent or to show that its medical use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at the present time is slightly used for medical purposes, but it would seem worthwhile to maintain its status as a medicinal agent for such purposes as it now has. There is a possibility that a restudy of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be derived from its medical use. "

Testimony at the Atlantic City Convention of the American Medical Association, June 1937. "Report of Committee on Legislative Activities," JAMA, 108 (June 26, 1937): 2214.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I am just totally surprised… SHOCKED, even, as it were, that Uruguay has NOT yet fallen off of the face of the Earth, for having legalized the Demon Weed!!! What will they do next, legalize genocide?!?! Insecticide?!?! Mammalicide?!?! Gaia-icide?!?!

  • Edwin||

    I don't like Argentina/Uruguay. They're latin american countries, but they're more like the weirdo Europeans; more cat-like personalities

  • Metazoan||


  • prolefeed||

    Companies can get a license to cultivate if they meet all the criteria. However, this won’t be a free market. The government will control the entire production and determine the price, quality, and maximum production volume.

    Statist fucks gotta be statist fucks.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Why The Atlantic is a magazine for morons who want to feel smart.

    It's an article dissing BTC that hits EVERY fallacy. Ponzi scheme, deflation = evil/the depression, etc

    Is The Atlantic ever good? Is it anything other than warmed over consensus crap?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Paul Krugman explicitly said in an interview that Bitcoin could only work because people want it to be valuable. Federal notes work because 'men with guns' back up its value.

    A surprising moment of clarity and honesty from Krugabe.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Except he's still wrong. History is littered with dead currencies that had far more vigorous backing from men with guns. That only works in the short term if even that, and that's the only frame that Krugabe can 'think' in.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I agree with you about his shortsightedness, but I'm just saying it's unusual to hear a liberal essentially admit that government is violence and it only works because our participation is coerced.

  • ||

    But was gold-pressed Latinum ever backed up by men with guns? I don't think so.

  • Warrren||


  • pan fried wylie||

    Looking to startrek for economic sense is like asking obama to tell the truth.

  • Warrren||

    Shut up, Obama promised me a replicator.

  • BakedPenguin||

    You're going to have to wait until he can make sure you can't make a plastic gun with it.

    Or a phaser.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Cancellation notices being sung by a choir. And a Senator dressed up like an Eskimo...

    Chestnuts roasting by the open fire, conversations about health insurance in the air:

    — OFA (@OFA) December 15, 2013


  • ||

    That's two interceptions for the Seahawks. Poor Eli. He should be more careful.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Washington residents: If you like what's in your bank account you can keep what's in your bank account

    Shannon Bruner of Indianola logged on to her checking account Monday morning, and found she was almost 800 dollars in the negative.

    “The first thing I thought was, ‘I got screwed,’” she said.
    The Bruners enrolled for insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder website, last October. They say they selected the bill pay date to be December 24th. Instead the Washington Healthplanfinder drafted the 835 dollar premium Monday.

    Josh Bruner started his own business this year as an engineering recruiter. They said it’s forced them to pay a lot of attention to their bills and their bank accounts.
    They're not alone. One viewer emailed KING 5 saying, "They drafted my account this morning for a second time."

    Another woman on Facebook with a similar problem commented, "We are all in the same boat."

    “We've got to figure out how to get money to pay the bills for the next week or two until we have another check come through,” said Josh Bruner. “It's just crazy.”

    Washington Healthplanfinder emailed the Bruners a few days ago telling them to log in to view their invoice, something they couldn't do because the website has been down. The Bruners haven't been able to get through on the helpline either.

  • ||

    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever allow direct withdrawals from your account. EVER. Not from Verizon, not from Comcast, not from the government most especially. EVER.

    Also, touchdown Seahawks.

  • Warrren||

    The Hawks don't need the help but it would be nice if the Bucs could at least challenge the 49ers.

  • ||

    Doubtful, but I'd like to see that as well.

  • Warrren||

    There we go. It won't be a shutout at least.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    Dunno if this was already posted. Cop on Reddit explains that paid admin leave is a total drag.

    Even then, the Administrative Leave isn't fun. The take your badge and gun and you are basically on house arrest between the hours of 8am and 5pm on weekdays. You cannot leave your home without permission of your superiors, even it its just to go down the street to the bank or grocery store. You must be available to come into the office immediately at any time for questioning, polygraphs, or anything else involved in the investigation. Drink a beer? That's consuming alcohol on duty, you're fired. So even when officers are cleared of the charges and put back on the street, Admin. Leave still isn't "paid vacation."
  • db||

    Maybe they could use the time to take an online course to train for an honest career.

  • ||

    My god, that's almost as bad as the Bastille. I feel so terrible for him.

  • Dweebston||

    Since administrative leave is the LEO surrogate for arrest and prosecution, I maintain it's a sweet deal, officer.

  • amagi1776||

    Oh know! They take your badge and your gun. The horror.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Many pages spent on blah blah blah about marijuana usage in some Latin American almost Banana Republic when millions of people in the world are starving to death. Looks like the Marxist there lost their priorities, if they ever had any to begin with.

  • Malcolm Kyle||

    If you support prohibition then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, and the complete loss of the rule of law.

    Neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics live in them; the concept of a "Drug-Free Society" is a neurotic fantasy and Prohibition's ills are a product of this/your psychotic delusion.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    The Uruguayan solution reminds me of the "reasonable compromises" offered to libertarians by pols in this country: "Sure, we can end the drug war, as long as users register with the government and only purchase strictly limited amounts at government-licensed pharmacies. Sure, people can grow cannabis if they secure a government license and open their premises and financial books to unwarranted inspection by government agents at any time." Then, when libertarians rightly reject such deals, and propose some form of real liberty instead, the pols call them unreasonable and throw up their hands: "We tried to compromise, but these hard-core extremists are too stubborn for their own good. This is why libertarianism can never work and libertarians will never win..."

  • Ross Adams||

    Lulz! Sad but true

  • LIFE.time.opertunity||

  • Car Scanner||

    It's bad to heard the legalization of marijuana.

  • pronomian||

    The idiots in Colorado should heed this, "That's the going price on the black market, which we need to compete with. Not more expensive, but not cheaper either."


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