Uruguay, which recently legalized recreational marijuana use, is considering using medical marijuana to treat cocaine-addicted prisoners.
The Huffington Post reports many Uruguayan prison inmates are hooked on a dangerous “crude and cheap” form of cocaine.
“Jail is not a very suitable place for someone to safely overcome drug addiction,” Uruguayan public health undersecretary Leonel Briozzo said at the United Nations in New York. Briozzo called for “new strategies for drug addiction treatment, especially for harder drugs like ‘pasta base.’ And in that sense, we harbor a possible hope that medical marijuana can play a role in this as well.”
“Pasta base,” also known as “paco,” is a byproduct of cocaine production. It’s crude, it’s cheap and it is increasingly popular among prisoners and drug addicts in both Uruguay and neighboring Argentina, where public health officials are alarmed.
“After six months [of use] it completely destroys you,” Dr. Eduardo Kallina told the Argentina Independent. “It’s as if someone was smoking 80 cigarettes a day for 20 years; however, these side effects are evident within a matter of months. You lose all sense of humanity.”
But Uruguay has adopted one of the world’s most progressive approaches to drug use, thanks largely to leftist President José Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla who once spent 14 years in prison before rising to become leader of the tiny yet prosperous nation of 3.4 million inhabitants. Since taking office, Mujica has been at the forefront of the global movement to decriminalize and even legalize marijuana.
To that end, last year Uruguay became the first nation in the world to legalize the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Uruguay’s First Lady, Sen. Lucía Topolansky, hailed legalization as “a big cultural change that focuses on public health and the fight against drug trafficking.”
Medical marijuana is also legal in Uruguay, and some public health officials want to use it to help treat prisoners addicted to “paco.”
“The idea isn’t that marijuana will substitute for what is obviously a much harder and more dangerous drug, but that marijuana can help reduce the anxieties when you go off that drug,” Coletta Youngers of the International Drug Policy Consortium told the Huffington Post.
After legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the United Nations criticized Uruguay. UN Drugs and Crime boss Yury Fedotov said the country’s policy was not compliant with international anti-drug agreements, while praising Iran, where drug traffickers are often executed, for its “very impressive” and “very active” role in fighting the illicit narcotics trade.