Health

Uruguay leader calls Colorado pot law 'a fiction'

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguay has finally released its rules for the legal marijuana market it is launching this year, detailing how the government plans to get very involved in every aspect of the business. But anyone hoping the South American nation will become a pot-smoker's paradise should probably head to Colorado instead, President Jose Mujica suggested on Friday.

"It's a complete fiction what they do in Colorado" in terms of controlling the sale and use of legal marijuana, Mujica said in an Associated Press interview. Colorado licenses sellers and producers but allows any adult to buy up to 28 grams at a time — and then go down the street and buy 28 grams more. 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, he said.

Mujica and his ministers plan to sign the regulations on Monday, and they'll take effect on Tuesday. In two weeks, the government will take applications from businesses hoping to become one of a handful of growers supplying marijuana to the state. By early December, a network of pharmacies will be ready to supply the weed to registered consumers at less than a dollar a gram, presidential spokesman Diego Canepa said late Friday.

As with tobacco, the pot will come in packages warning of health risks, and smoking will be prohibited everywhere but private homes and open-air locations. As with liquor, motorists will be subject to testing by police to make sure they're not driving under the influence.

The state will sell five different strains, containing a maximum level of 15 percent THC, the substance that gets consumers high. Each bag will be bar-coded, radio-frequency tagged, and registered in a genetic database that will enable authorities to trace its origin and determine its legality, Canepa said. The rules limit licensed growers to six plants per household — not per person, as some pot enthusiasts had hoped. And while people who buy in pharmacies will be identified by fingerprint readers to preserve their anonymity, every user's pot consumption will be tracked in a government database.

Mujica predicted that many will call him an elderly reactionary once they see this fine print, but he says his government never intended to create a mecca for marijuana lovers. "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."

With bona fide plants registered at the molecular level, police can test for illegal weed wherever they encounter it, and arrest anyone with pot that lacks the proper genetic markers, the rules say. Mujica says the system is more transparent and honest than the medical marijuana laws passed by 21 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, which he called "brutal hypocrisy" because people can fake illnesses to get prescription weed.

"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," he said.

Mujica who is preparing to visit President Barack Obama in the White House on May 12, predicted that Uruguay's system will be much tougher on drug users, and more effective in combatting illegal drug trafficking.

Mujica, 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.

Uruguay's leader sat down for a wide-ranging 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 at the small farm on a hill overlooking Montevideo where he lives and grows flowers for sale.

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 negotiating 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 to keep the former terror suspects 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 is a former guerrilla who led the armed Tupamaro movement before Uruguay's 1973-1985 dictatorship. He 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.

Follow Leonardo Haberkorn on Twitter: https://twitter.com/leohaberkorn

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