By Stephen C. Webster on December 03, 2013

By this time next week, the world will get a glimpse of what it means when a whole country fully legalizes the consumption of marijuana by consenting adults.

The nation of Uruguay will take a step that no other nation has yet dared thanks to the global hegemony of the drug war, upheld and enforced by the United States and its most powerful allies.

Uruguay's legalization bill will establish the government as the monopoly seller of marijuana, and undercut the black market by offering state-grown weed for just $1 a gram. Registered users will also be allowed to grow up to six plants of their own, or join clubs of up to 45 members who can produce 99 plants at once.

Children under age 18 may not buy the drug under Uruguay's proposed law. Similarly, driving under the influence is strictly forbidden, and so is advertising marijuana. Most importantly, only citizens of Uruguay may purchase legalized weed, which officials hope will tamp down on the kind of drug tourism that Colorado and Washington are becoming known for. In an effort to aid international drug control officials, the country also plans to produce a very specific genetic strain of marijuana that scientists can easily identify.

Speaking to a Brazilian newspaper over the weekend, President José Mujica called upon fellow world leaders to help Uruguay break the grip of global prohibition and finally show that the drug war is much more harmful than the drugs themselves.

"We ask the world to help us create this experience," he reportedly said. "It will allow us to adopt a socio-political experiment to address the serious problem of drug trafficking... the effect of the drug traffic is worse than the drug."

Though Uruguay stands alone in this national project, there are clear signs that the global consensus on the drug war is crumbling from within.

Legalizing marijuana represents a serious break with the United Nations' 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which Uruguay ratified. However, it is unclear whether the U.N. has the will to do anything about Uruguay forsaking that treaty.

A leaked document given to The Guardian recently shows that the U.N. is facing a growing divide on drug control strategies, with countries like Ecuador and Venezuela favoring policies that "look beyond prohibition." Switzerland, the European Union and Norway are also included in the dissenters, hoping that the U.N. would consider treating drug addiction more like a medical problem and less like a criminal one.

Closer to America's doorstep, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has been agitating for years about his country's movement to embrace drug reform, and even made a personal appearance at a Washington product launch party for a new brand of connoisseur cannabis produced by Diego Pellicer Inc., a company formed by a former Microsoft executive.

Fox suggested that Mexico's movement toward legalization would be rapidly accelerated if California makes the leap first. "Once California gets into this, Mexico is going to be obligated to speed up its decision process," he said.

The reason for Mexico's likely push to legalize after California is simple: Partial legalization in the states could intensify the cartel wars beyond all hope of reconciliation. As marijuana profits dwindle, the entrenched organizations upholding the black market will be left to battle each other for what remains.

The solution, it seems, was even on U.S. Senator John McCain's lips recently, when he told a crowd in Arizona that Mexico's bloody drug war "is our responsibility."

"We're creating a demand for drugs in this country and when there's a demand, there's going to be a supply," he said. "Maybe we should legalize it. We are certainly moving that way so far as marijuana is concerned, but I will respect the will of the people."

Respecting the will of the people, even for McCain, is a far cry from where most American politicians are today. Even President Barack Obama, whose administration has taken a largely hands-off approach to drug reform in Colorado and Washington, says that legalization is not the answer.

However, last October the Gallup polling firm found for the first time ever that a majority of Americans believe legalization is in fact the answer. A full 58 percent said that marijuana should be legalized; nearly a super majority.

Gallup added: "A sizable percentage of Americans (38%) this year admitted to having tried the drug, which may be a contributing factor to greater acceptance." The only demographics with majorities that believe possessing the drug should remain a criminal offense are individuals over age 65 and Republicans; two groups that tend to go hand-in-hand.

"With Americans' support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future," Gallup concluded.

"Last year, Colorado and Washington; this year, Uruguay; and next year, Oregon and hopefully more states as well," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a media advisory issued Sunday. "We still have a long way to go but who would have believed, just five years ago, that legalizing marijuana would have become a mainstream political reality both in the United States and abroad?!"

Photo: Flickr user Oregon Department of Transportation, creative commons licensed.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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