Who is José Mujica and why do we love him?

If your government’s top official lives on a farm because he doesn’t want the stately palace (even allowing refugees use the fancy pad at one time instead), grows and eats his own produce, gives 90% of his salary to people in need and legalizes cannabis despite being warned against it by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) then you know you live in Uruguay.

If you have been living under a rock then you can be forgiven for thinking that prohibitionist global drug policies have been working, you are very mistaken. Most movers and shakers across the world have accepted that the war on drugs fails everyone (yes even you tee-totalers) but it seems that none of the people in positions of power know how to show leadership and apply the obvious logic, except for a few brave people like Jose “Pepe” Mujica , president of Uruguay.

Jose Mujica is considered a bit of a living legend among some drug policy activists, some see him as having the wrong attitude to cannabis because of the Uruguayan governments insistence on keeping tabs of people’s individual consumption to identify problem users (if there is such a thing), some hard-line prohibitionists would probably see him as a leader gone rogue and closer to the antichrist. We get why people are against the recording of people’s consumption of cannabis but José himself sees Uruguay’s policy changes as a social experiment and is open to changing this appropriately after time gathered data. We can argue all day about Jose’s policies but its happening here and now, we don’t see anything like Uruguay’s changes so instead let’s watch and learn.

José ignored the UN’s recommendations to stay ‘fully compliant’ with international drug policy by refusing to continue with the prohibition of cannabis and went ahead in legalising the plant. Next he had his government control the production and sale of it, the price of Uruguay’s regulated cannabis is $1-$2 per gram which completely undermined and undercut the cartels who previously controlled the market. Let’s not forget that the global trade of illegal drugs has come with huge suffering for people who get caught up in it, including extreme violence directly and indirectly from groups such as these cartels who have wreaked havoc across the South Americas.

José is a simple man who lives by simple means, he took the most simple and effective steps to curtailing the biggest threat to his nation by cutting off it’s money supply – ending it’s ability to continue funding it’s operations like before through the sale of cannabis (a huge revenue stream for south American gangs, loosening it’s grip on his people and creating a better environment for the many…not the few who profited from the wider misery that prohibition causes.

He claims that Uruguay has experience with regulation or liberation of acts that were and some that still are seen as taboo today ranging from legalizing divorce to regulating prostitution dating as far back as 1910. His own view of a regulated cannabis market has been adapted from the Uruguayan governments model used to regulate alcohol in 1914 which he claims was a great success, exactly 15 years later America started their prohibition on alcohol. America’s choice to ban alcohol (in case you didn’t know already) caused extreme violence, death within families and communities while giving rise to the mafia, corruption through-out the establishment of America and the criminalisation of innocent people. Sound familiar?

“…its an old saying, you must remember the past or be condemned to repeat it.” – José “Pepe” Mujica

José might not be to everyone’s liking but you have to give credit where it’s due, he’s pushed back against the status quo and broke the cycle of leaders who speak out against the war on drugs after they’ve served in office, he has done so in a gentle and thoughtful manner in the face of huge pressure from the international community and with a sincere smile on his face. President Mujica claims that his ten year prison sentence, spent in solitary confinement is what gave him his fearless insight and is something that deeply changed him into someone who sees words more powerful than weapons, a polar opposite to what he was as a young man, willing to take up arms for his political beliefs. Justin Treadau may be the hip president of the moment but the old man had the courage to open the gate and show the way…

Here’s Vice’s 2014 interview with President Mujica: