Uruguay’s leader faces pot dilemma

By Ana Inis Cibils ,AFP

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguayan president-elect Tabare Vazquez, a cancer doctor returning to the country’s highest office a decade after launching an anti-smoking crusade, faces a dilemma over his predecessor’s landmark marijuana law. Vazquez, who served as Uruguay’s first leftist president from 2005 to 2010, won a run-off election Sunday, playing political leapfrog with current President Jose Mujica, his Broad Front (FA) party colleague, in this country that bars presidents from serving consecutive terms. Under Mujica, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana all the way from the cannabis field to the joint, setting up a regulated market for cultivation, sales and use. But though the legislation officially came on the books in April, implementation has gotten off to a slow start, complicated by election-year politics and polls showing that two-thirds of Uruguayans oppose the measure. The law faces an uncertain future when Vazquez, a buttoned-down politician with a traditional style, takes over from colorful rabble-rouser Mujica on March 1. Vazquez, 74, made anti-tobacco legislation one of his top priorities when he was first elected in 2004. He signed strict anti-smoking bills making Uruguay the first country in Latin America to ban smoking in public, forcing cigarette-makers to cover their packaging with graphic cancer warnings, and banning tobacco ads. That put him on a collision course with tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is suing the South American country for US$25 million in an ongoing case.

‘Any corrections necessary’ Vazquez’s anti-smoking crusade is a kind of homage to his blue-collar family, which lost three members to cancer �X his mother, father and sister �X in the 1960s, when he was putting himself through medical school. The oncologist is so dedicated to medicine that he continued practicing throughout his first presidential term, though he has said he will give it up this time around. On the campaign trail this year, Vazquez spoke out forcefully against smoking pot.