July 23, 2013 -- Earlier this week, Uruguayan President José Mújica, a progressive politician who is pushing a law to legalize marijuana consumption in Uruguay, confessed that he has never smoked weed.
"I have never tried it in my life and I don't know what it is," Mújica told Radio Carve, a local radio station. He added that he's aware "a lot of young people have tried it."
Mújica's somewhat surprising admission came shortly before he met with José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), to discuss a recent report on drug consumption in the Americas. The report favored drug decriminalization of marijuana, an initiative that Uruguayan legislators have been discussing for nearly a year.
"We don't have any objections against this process moving forward," Insulza said in reference to a marijuana legalization bill in Uruguay. "We don't support it openly because we don't have a mandate from [OAS] member countries, but that is the road that is being followed. The marijuana debate is now open and it's going to lead to changes."
Mújica, a former guerrilla fighter known for his humility and kindness, and the Broad Front, a coalition of left-wing parties of which Mújica is a member, are supporting this bill, which would allow Uruguayans over the age of 18 to buy up to 40 grams of weed per month from state-sanctioned distributors.
The legislation was first introduced in 2012 in order to fight drug consumption and drug trafficking. Last December, the government had the necessary votes to pass the bill, but President Mújica asked parliament not to vote in the legislation after a poll revealed that most Uruguayans did not favor the initiative. ("Don't vote on a law because you have majority in parliament," Mújica said back then. "Support has to come from the streets.")
The president then charged the bill's leading supporters with convincing Uruguayans of the importance of marijuana legalization. Since then, the vote has been delayed and legislators both in favor and against the initiative have tried to court public opinion through media appearances and op-eds in the nation's most important newspapers.
The vote is now set for July 31, 2013.
According to Uruguayan newspaper El Observador, the Broad Front now has 49 of the 50 required votes for the bill to clear the Lower Chamber. The coalition is still striving to convince Darío Pérez, who has met with Mújica to discuss the matter. Other options include José Carlos Cardoso, a legislator from an opposition party who agrees with the policy but who is still unwilling to go against his political organization.
Insulza's visit, largely seen as a show of support for Mújica's initiative, could well help secure that 50th vote. On Monday, the OAS Secretary General said that legalizing marijuana is a strategy that is worth trying. He also made point of highlighting that Uruguay is the first country where he is presenting the OAS report "The Drug Problem in the Americas."
"What better place to start than here, where there is already a debate," Insulza said.