MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- Uruguayan President Jose Mujica plans to defend his government's groundbreaking marijuana licensing plan in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, his spokesman said Friday.
By then, the marijuana proposal is expected to be the law in this land of 3.3 million, with bureaucrats preparing to issue the first licenses to grow, sell and smoke government-approved pot.
Mujica, 78, a former leftist guerrilla who still lives on a ramshackle flower farm, is an unusual leader by any standard, and he has gained a global reputation for his homespun oratory. His speech urging humility and simplicity in a world of conspicuous consumption has been viewed millions of times on YouTube since he wowed the audience at the Rio+20 environmental conference last year.
Judging from the radio address he made to Uruguayans on Thursday after the marijuana plan passed its first test in congress, his arguments for alternatives to the drug war could be memorable as well.
Excerpts from the address:
"There's no doubt that humans for now, are the most intelligent animals that nature offers on our planet. There's no doubt, however, that incredibly, they take on habits that go against their own life."
"Nobody doubts that cigarettes are poison. Who could doubt that it threatens life? We all know it. We've known it for a while and we suffer from it. And yet, we smoke. You often find doctors who smoke and ask their patients not to smoke. We contract diseases that would be avoidable."
In Uruguay, "there are more than 100,000 people, most of them young people, who smoke a joint here and there, and they're chasing this adventure of buying something from drug trafficking. ... This whole world is clandestine, although the stench can be seen and felt in many places."
"I'm an old man. I've committed the sin and vice of smoking. And I've had an occasional drink as well. I'm not innocent, even though I'm the president."
"I never smoked a marijuana joint, but I've come to notice that I need to rejuvenate my neurons and realize what the life of young people is like."
"The consumption is already happening -- it's around every corner, and it comes from a clandestine market that by nature has ferocious rules. It's a monopoly of mobsters. And the numbers are frightening."
"A report by the OAS for all of Central America and Mexico says that for every death that comes from an overdose ... there are about 100 deaths produced by the troubles and murders of drug-trafficking. That means that the worst social effects suffered are not from the drug itself, but from drug trafficking."
"Government, the people and Uruguay spend fortunes on police, technical means, wiretapping machines ... all of that costs fortunes. Then, there's the management of jails. This poison reaches everywhere."
"Worst of all, it never ends! How many keep falling? And drugs are still out there -- why? Because the profits are enoooooormous!"
"That huge profit serves to prostitute prison life; it tends to corrupt the repressive apparatus. It also corrupts the financial institutions because there's money laundering ... It's clear that there are countries where it has financed electoral campaigns."
"This promise of money and threats are there -- `do you want silver, or lead?' They threaten families. On the one side they offer you cash, lots of it, and on the other, they offer you bullets. So you're stuck in a repressive apparatus. If you don't collaborate they go after your family. Why is this all possible? Because of the profits ... This has to be seen as a market, as a business. High risk, huge profit."
"The people who've been tracking this estimate that a Peruvian or Colombian peasant will get between $500 and $700 for the raw materials to make one kilogram of cocaine. Then, it starts being passed on, and that original $500 to $700 will turn to about $350,000 per kilo when it is sold in doses. The value multiplies once it crosses the North American border."
"This law being attempted is a regulation. It's not `anything goes.' It's to regulate something that already exists and that's in front of our noses, right there at the door of the schools, on the street corners. It attempts to snatch this market from the underground, identify it and expose it to daylight."
"Most high school graduates in this country have tried marijuana. It's like a youthful adventure, a rite of passage. Have we forgotten these things? ... the government understands that we have to fight the battle there, and not leave our kids alone in the underground; not encourage this mystery, the attraction that young people have to try what's prohibited. Because human beings are complicated bugs; marijuana is a dangerous addiction, like any other addiction, it's not good."
"We would like the majority of the population to understand this battle, to join us, precisely because we need the help of our people .... Because we have the whole world showing us this. In no part of the world has repression brought results. We want to stop this on the frontier where drug addiction begins. It's not easy, because we don't have a prescription. It's not simple -- we realize we're making an experiment on the vanguard of the entire world."