Add Uruguay to the (short) list of countries whose prisons you may actually want to see.
The small South American country, the first in the world to legalize marijuana, will now allow inmates to smoke medical marijuana in their cells as long as a doctor approves.
Julio Calzada, Uruguay’s drug czar, told the Associated Press in April that any inmate with a doctor’s order would be allowed to use weed to improve physical or mental health.
Leonel Briozzo, the country’s undersecretary for public health, spoke at a U.N. event focused on women, drug policy and incarceration and said MMJ would be used in jail for physical conditions, mental illness, and inmates addicted to hard drugs. Many prisoners are addicted to a cocaine paste known as “pasta base” or “paco.”
“Jail is not a very suitable place for someone to safely overcome drug addiction,” Briozzo said, so “new strategies for drug addiction treatment, especially for harder drugs like ‘pasta base,’” are needed.
Marijuana can ease the withdrawal process from harder drugs, said Coletta Youngers of the International Drug Policy Consortium.
“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,” Youngers said.
More importantly, a marijuana dependence is much less risky in a prison – or anywhere else, for that matter – than an addiction to hard drugs. It’s better for prisoners, it’s better for the officials who guard them, and it’s better for society.
Uruguay is blazing a new social trail, though. Even in the United States, where MMJ is legal in half the country, it’s rare than an inmate is furloughed for a medical treatment that includes medical weed. And no correctional facilities allow pot.
But Uruguay has long been blazing trails. Last year, the country became the first in the world to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis. Pot will sell in pharmacies by the end of the year for $1 a gram, though only Uruguayans are allowed to buy it and the government will keep records of purchases.
Officials also plan to build a parallel medical marijuana system. Daniel Olesker, the country’s social development minister, told a symposium in the capital that MMJ would be woven into the public health system along with other holistic remedies.
Uruguay’s prisons earn poor reviews overall. They’re decrepit, critically overcrowded, and subject to frequent outbreaks of murderous violence. So maybe you don’t want to see the inside after all.
But at least if you get arrested there with a condition you can explain to a doctor, your stay might be a little less unbearable.