Uruguay has legalized cannabis. It was a close parliamentary vote, but it means that anyone who is 18 years old and over can buy cannabis in selected chemists. Each chemist will have a computerized list of registered buyers, so the quantity and regularity of purchases can be monitored over time. Presumably, anyone considered to be buying too much, too often will get a visit from the boys in blue. That’s if the boys in blue are in a fit state to make the visit!
But how could this affect Romania?
I’m sure many governments around the world will be discussing the implications of this move, including ours in Romania. And the political benefits from a Romanian MP’s point of view are clear. A semi-conscious population lying on the couch at home would be unlikely to rush onto the streets to protest against Rosia Montana, corruption or massive hikes in domestic energy costs.
One can easily imagine Romanian government ministers sizing up this South American decision, then arranging a vote in Parliament to follow in Uruguay’s innovative footsteps. And never mind the fact that Uruguay has blithely ignored the fact that it is a signatory to the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs that strictly forbids legalization. That is a mere detail compared to the golden chance to be popular with the Romanian masses. The opportunity would be too tempting for the egoists swanning around the marble corridors of People's Palace.
But what’s the logic behind Uruguay’s move?
Well, if the government controls the trade in cannabis from cultivation to distribution, the gangsters will have the rug pulled from under their feet. They will be out of business, apparently. Sounds fine in theory, but it is widely believed that ‘gangsters’ run the government here, and so there wouldn’t be any need to reorganize the drug trade - just re-name it.
It’s been done before. Communism was renamed Capitalism in 1989, but nothing really changed. And recently, Romanian MPs, who are ‘civil servants’, voted to re-classify themselves, but they still do the same job as before. So, anyone who says that ‘gangsters’ do not run governments in this country might justifiably be asked if they have been smoking something.
But other than controlling a dissatisfied population, what other benefits might the Romanian government consider to be attractive? Let me see: the public health system is on the brink of collapse, and an injection of cash from the sale of cannabis would solve a funding problem. Just think, the government could claim that every spliff smoked makes a contribution to saving kids with cancer, or will subsidize the cost of bandages, antibiotics and medicines for public hospitals. Light up, get high, save lives!
There are some benefits for Romanians, however. After a couple of spliffs, speeches by Romanian politicians might begin to make sense, at last. And after several spliffs, their speeches might sound like revelations of the secrets of the Universe, who knows? But seriously, the first step to loosening restrictive laws has already been taken. Some steps were made to allow the medical use of marijuana. Theoretically, those suffering from Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s can get a doctor’s prescription for cannabis to alleviate the symptoms.
I’ll bet, since then, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have been googled a lot in Romania with hopeful scammers packing doctors’ surgeries to claim they are suffering from the symptoms that qualify them for a much sought after prescription for something to smoke.
But in the end, do the risks outweigh the benefits, or vice versa?
The problem is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it would be almost impossible to put it back. So, any such plan has to work. Failure would be a social catastrophe. The courts are already overloaded. The impact on the Romanian justice system of thousands of new cases of violence, car accidents and other crimes carried out by swivel-eyed, spliffed citizens would strain the justice system beyond breaking point. And anyway, smoking cannabis to forget your concerns about dodgy governments, or worrying about how to pay your mortgage in a foreign currency is like giving an alcoholic a shot of whiskey to make him feel better. Freely available cannabis would not solve the fundamental problems of society. If anything, it would make things worse.
In the psychedelic, hippy era, cities around the world were awash with drugs of all kinds. Everybody was smoking or taking something. You could become a social pariah overnight if you refused to take drugs. But was it all bad? Contemporary history records that demonstrations by dope smoking hippies stopped the Vietnam war. Also, there were demonstrations to demand equality for black Americans, as well as demonstrations of women’s liberation supporters burning their bras for the sake of feminist principles - today’s Femen are just the clones of the 1960s women’s libbers! So, maybe legalizing cannabis wouldn’t have much effect on demonstrations against Rosia Montana, government corruption, or 30 bani added to petrol duty, you might say.
Ah, but just one thing. The drugs smoked in the 1960s were kids’ stuff compared to today’s crops. Then, you had to smoke all day just to get that feeling of, ‘Houston, we have lift off!’ Nowadays, however, one whiff of the marijuana leaves soaked in concentrated THC - tetrahydrocannabinol - would knock out an elephant. So, my prediction for 2014 is that the Romanian government will use the Uruguayan example and make a populist move to legalize cannabis. After all, drugging the population in exchange for tacit permission to do whatever they like would seem like an irresistible deal.
Now, where did I put my ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album .......?
By Angus McFarlane, guest writer
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