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!