There are many reasons to visit Uruguay -- the food and wine are excellent, the people are friendly and prosperous, and enjoy ample jobs and a low rate of poverty along with free health care.
But marijuana is not yet one of them. Uruguayan adults will have the right to buy marijuana in stores in President Jose Mujica's country in April, three months after Colorado begins the experiment with ending cannabis prohibition -- provided that they register their names and addresses, buy no more than a big joint's worth per day (with enough for two on the weekend) and grow no more than six plants. And forget the notion of a South American Amsterdam: no foreigners allowed.
Legalization in Uruguay, signed into law by Mujica on Tuesday despite two-thirds opposition from his own people, makes legal cannabis a reality for 8.6 million people worldwide. In other words, it's not huge -- and indeed, the limits would be staunchly opposed by many pro-legalization activists in California -- but it's the biggest progress on drug reform that's happened all year.
The truth is that legalization in Uruguay doesn't mean a whole lot for California, which has 10 times the people and several hundred times the economic power as Uruguay (plus more unemployment and twice as much people living in poverty). It won't usher in legalization any faster, which is still $5 to $10 million away in the Golden State unless billionaires like George Soros -- who, along with David Rockefeller met with Mujica at a Drug Policy Alliance-organized summit in New York City, have a change of heart -- choose to bankroll it.
Fact is, it's downright conservative: the three legalization measures proposed for 2014, all floating around in limbo for lack of a rich man's largess, allow adults to possess and to grow more weed than is allowed in Uruguay. That, and the Big Brother element of the national list that tracks how much marijuana customers buy, would outrage many marijuana backers in California and lead them to hold out for more.
And that would be a mistake. Uruguay's legalization is meaningful for Americans, who will be that much less susceptible to reefer madness with an entire country declaring an end to the "failed policy" of making a plant illegal and its users outlaws -- and who now have to watch a smaller, less-willing country take control of an issue years before they'll have the chance.
Which is nothing new for Americans, whose quality of life is lacking in many areas beyond drug reform compared to the Uruguayans; to round out a tour of what's wrong with socialism, enjoy an incarceration rate 1/3 lower than America's.
As things stand, what happened in Uruguay will never happen in America -- from a president leading the way on legalization (only the voters, and only the states where voters have the ballot initiative option, will push progress here), all the way to that president being a leftist ex-guerrilla who lives on a "ramshackle" farm and gives away 90 percent of his salary -- who, it can't be forgotten, spent 14 years in prison for organizing against a US-backed government of bankers.
On top of all of the above, Uruguay had more liberal drug laws in place well before Mujica's marijuana movement, with all drug use decriminalized. So further left is Uruguay, and so far away is its reality from what could be here that it may as well be a socialist Moon.
But more attention on doing it differently is welcome -- it can only help turn more people on to the fact that in America -- and in California, where more weed is technically allowed with a $40 doctor's note, along with far more criminal penalties -- we're doing it wrong.