Some of you were kind enough to ask me to bring them some Uruguayan marihuana, being connoisseurs who compare blends from across the world and who have deep feelings of admiration for a small country which decided to take a leap of faith and make the substance entirely legal, and available in pharmacies. I am grateful for the implied compliment that the nation of my birth has faced the contentious issue of the legalisation of drugs in an entirely rational, calm and practical manner.
At the end of 2013 I explained the legislation, and noted the tiny impediment that individuals needed to obtain permits before getting their rations:
All permits are controlled by the state bureaucracy, and since they have no real work to do they make the issuing of permits a form of performance art. Permits take time. Sometimes a year.
However, it turns out I had mis-underestimated local lethargy. Although Uruguay garnered international attention and approbation for their policy, the international community does not understand how policy works in Uruguay. Policy is something you announce. Once you have done so, the job is done. Implementation is another matter.
A year on it is still not possible to get legal marihuana, and this is not because individuals desiring to partake of this substance cannot obtain permits. Pharmacies in this country have the status of a national health service. They are the first port of call for all ailments, and the learned pharmacist will willingly prescribe an ointment or antibiotic for each complaint, commonly both. Doctor’s surgeries are usually located close to pharmacies, so that ailing patients do not have too far to walk. When closed, every pharmacy has a notice in their window showing which nearby pharmacy is currently open “taking its turn” to serve the public throughout the weekend and public holidays. Some even remain open 24 hours a day, all days of the year, and become a social destination and a point of reference when giving people directions. Clients are respectful, polite, eager to get advice and to carry it out. The clientele includes mothers with sick babies, sunbathers with blisters, and people who have had the misfortune to tear their knees on sunken wrecks. All of these are tended to with professional aplomb and mild detachment, as befits public servants who have seen it all, in the case of wrecks many times.
After due consideration, pharmacists are not entirely convinced that they want to cater to a group of people who are not actually ill, and who tend to resolve misunderstandings with firearms. In particular, even if they went against their moral scruples and began to establish a regular clientele of state-sponsored dope heads they anticipate that the current free enterprise purveyors of hard drugs will not welcome the competition, and might arrive in the cool of the evening on their traditional motor bikes “to settle accounts” in an unpleasant final manner. Pharmacists prefer to be pillars of the community than footnotes in the funeral columns. As a consequence, the whole issue of legalised marihuana is judged to have served its purpose: it has gained favourable international publicity. Of course, the policy has not been abandoned. It has merely been moved into the implementation phase, which may take some time.
As a benchmark for those of you who have made the requests for marihuana, and repeated them with a certain feverish insistence, let us consider the sunken wreck on which two family members have already gashed their knees. There is no doubt it is there, because it can be seen, and walked round, at low tide. Ten men with spades, or one man with a digger, and another man to drive a large pickup truck could probably clear the whole thing away, even if it took several days of low tide. However, such an action is not something the authorities wish to rush into, and in the interim some feeble notices half-warn bathers of the hazard. I do not wish to disappoint those of you who were anticipating I would return with little packets of state-sponsored comfort for your delectation, but you ought to know that the wreck has been there since 1930.