Tuesday 31 December 2013

Ending 2013 on a marihuana high, Uruguayan style


In order to end 2013 on a high note, I have travelled to Uruguay to bring you a first-hand report on the effects of legal, state regulated marihuana. Does it boost IQ, you may well ask? And why not, when so many other activities and substances are reputed to do so?

Marihuana is available legally to anyone who is above 18 and is resident in the country. You get a permit and can then be provided with 40 grams to consume per month. The only time I can recall seeing precisely 40 grams of something in one place is when measuring out my morning porridge. It is about half a bowl full. I do not yet know how generous this is, according to the logical measurement unit of reefers, and whether it will last a hardened user the entire month.

In naming Uruguay “Country of the Year” The Economist has been distracted by the novelty of the legalisation of marihuana into downplaying an aspect of the policy which goes counter to their main creed: the free market. The Uruguayans are fond of state monopolies. Milk is controlled by one state run cooperative, which then produces a range of basic lactic products. Other free enterprises compete, but at something of a disadvantage. Petrol is refined by one state controlled refinery. Telephones are controlled by a state monopoly. Free enterprises can compete in the mobile phone sector, where they have to offer better service, more handsets and shorter queues in order to compete, but the state still has the lion’s share of the market, and all the market for fixed telephony.

You may have missed the sting in the tail in the first paragraph. You have to apply for a permit. 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. Tier upon tier of functionaries work slowly to impede each other. Private enterprise is another matter. Getting a new mobile phone number takes no longer than an hour. It should take about 20 minutes, but at least they make a show of attending to their clients. Even in rapacious capitalism, some habits of lethargy remain.

We know something about recreational drug users. They do not rate highly on conscientiousness, patience and future orientation. Filling in forms is not a priority for them. At the moment they are still using their trusted corner street providers, of the free enterprise variety. These providers often have to cope with other rival providers, and they tend to resolve these business challenges by murdering their opponents. The Police refer to these casualties as “settling of accounts” cases. I doubt the investigations take very long. It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “end of year consolidation of corporate accounts”.

Dope heads want instant satisfaction, and value immediacy of supply over cost and quality control. The free market in drugs is not likely to be imperilled by the new policy. It is not my usual habit to comment on policy, but perhaps dropping the requirement for a permit would increase uptake, and increasing the grams per month might really damage the drug peddler’s margins. As currently conceived, this is a damp squib, or a weak reefer. It is a show of radicalism, wrapped in the impediment of caution.

I will leave aside, for the moment, whether marihuana has much of an effect unless taken in heavy doses for protracted periods. I will also leave aside why anyone needs to drug themselves while living in a country with 300 miles of beach, the best beef in the world, and copious entertainment provided by the best footballers.

There are some other options for the determined druggy. Users could try smoking porridge oats or even the local green herb tea. Either may have a significant effect. However, there is a standby. As is usual all over the world, the local papers have been doing a roundup of the year’s news, including key statistics.

Uruguay leads the entire world in the per capital consumption of a particular mind altering drug. The drug in question is something of a surprise. Uruguay leads the world in the consumption of whiskey, at 2.4 litres per person. (I do not know if this includes babes in arms). It is a great achievement on the part of the population, and on the Scottish people, who championed this brew in a culture which was unused to it, but came to learn its merits.

So, the end of year headlines are that marihuana is legal in Uruguay. The footnotes are that the current policy is not dope-head friendly, and will probably not dent street prices for weed, and will certainly not touch street prices for opiates. Old fashioned alcohol, with all its unfortunate side effects, is the stupifier of choice.

Sláinte and Happy New Year!


  1. The Scottish people have nothing to do with whiskey, and probably prefer the spelling "slàinte". Howsoever that may be, a Happy New Year to you too, doc. Lang may yer lum reek.

  2. Well-meaning-amateur31 December 2013 at 19:58

    Cheers! I can't resist posting a small portion of Bayard Taylor's description of his experiment with hasheesh while traveling in the Middle East, from Chapter X ("The Visions of Hasheesh") of "The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily, and Spain" (1855, 1863):

    During my stay in Damascus, that insatiable curiosity which leads me to prefer the acquisition of all lawful knowledge through the channels of my own personal experience, rather than in less satisfactory and less laborious ways, induced me to make a trial of the celebrated Hasheesh--that remarkable drug which supplies the luxurious Syrian with dreams more alluring and more gorgeous than the Chinese extracts from his darling opium pipe. ...

    My companion and an English gentleman, who, with his wife, was also residing in Antonio's pleasant caravanserai--agreed to join me in the experiment. The dragoman of the latter was deputed to procure a sufficient quantity of the drug. He was a dark Egyptian, speaking only the lingua franca of the East, and asked me, as he took the money and departed on his mission, whether he should get hasheesh "per ridere, a per dormire?" "Oh, per ridere, of course," I answered; "and see that it be strong and fresh." ...

    I was seated alone, nearly in the middle of the room, talking with my friends, who were lounging upon a sofa placed in a sort of alcove, at the farther end, when the same fine nervous thrill, of which I have spoken, suddenly shot through me. But this time it was accompanied with a burning sensation at the pit of the stomach; and, instead of growing upon me with the gradual pace of healthy slumber, and resolving me, as before, into air, it came with the intensity of a pang, and shot throbbing along the nerves to the extremities of my body. The sense of limitation---of the confinement of our senses within the bounds of our own flesh and blood--instantly fell away. The walls of my frame were burst outward and tumbled into ruin; and, without thinking what form I wore--losing sight even of all idea of form--I felt that I existed throughout a vast extent of space. The blood, pulsed from my heart, sped through uncounted leagues before it reached my extremities; the air drawn into my lungs expanded into seas of limpid ether, and the arch of my skull was broader than the vault of heaven. Within the concave that held my brain, were the fathomless deeps of blue; clouds floated there, and the winds of heaven rolled them together, and there shone the orb of the sun. It was--though I thought not of that at the time--like a revelation of the mystery of omnipresence. ...

    By this time it was nearly midnight. I had passed through the Paradise of Hasheesh, and was plunged at once into its fiercest Hell. In my ignorance I had taken what, I have since learned, would have been a sufficient portion for six men, and was now paying a frightful penalty for my curiosity. ...

  3. loved your first sentence! ...as scottish psychiatrist david cunningham owens says (paraphrasing) the human drive to alter consciousness has been around since the dawn of time - so our current (US) "war" on it is like declaring war on biology. sadly, it's consistent with much of our politics & laws here. & those with biologies that prefer "politically anointed" consciousness-changers (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco - altho those latter 2 have been less blessed around here lately) are in luck, while those who prefer less legal brain-recreational vehicles (some arguably safer than alcohol & tobacco) are "SOL" as we used to say in the military (b/c we often were:) i bet one needs 80 grams of permit/paperwork to get 40 grams of a naturally occurring substance. in the US when our $ for welfare/EBT runs out, they should consider handing out 40 gram increments of Uruguayian flora instead. might help keep the peace:) cheers!

  4. It ain't the tobacco that's dangerous, it's the smoking (or, on a much smaller scale, chewing). If every nicotine addict used patches or e-fags instead, they'd be a darned sight safer.

    It seems unlikely to me that smoking marrywanny isn't potentially dangerous too; has anyone bothered to study the dangers of smoking it as distinct from, say, eating it in cakes?

  5. An important motive that is apparently inborn or learned early without formal training is curiosity. As early as 1881 it was observed that monkeys would tirelessly investigate their surroundings and manipulate any new object, although no reward was to be gained except the sheer fun of it. One monkey worked for two hours (unsuccessfully) trying to open the lock of a trunk in which nuts were stored, although a plentiful supply of nuts was within easy reach (Romanes, 1881).

  6. Yes, and then the effect was rediscovered in the 50s or 60s when lab assistants tired of doing up the many locks on demonstration doors which the monkeys then quickly undid. Curiosity rules. Do you want to know why?

  7. "Curiosity rules. Do you want to know why?"
    simply brilliant :)

  8. Could you please confirm where you got the statistics that: Uruguay leads the world in the consumption of whiskey, at 2.4 litres per person.

    I live in this small country and have witnessed an intake of alcohol very similar or even less than the rest of Latin America.

    1. Dear Geoffrey, El Pais, last Sunday or Sunday before that. I have thrown the papers away, but the end of year review had these statistics. They might still be available on their website. The lower figures for mate consumption are more of a surprise to me. Abrazo

  9. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/unmaking-england/