Uruguay Aims To Treat Prisoners With Medical Marijuana

Dan Harkins

Uruguay undoubtedly is already on the short list for any Best Nation Ever Award that High Times magazine might be planning to hand out any time soon, not just for its everyday citizens but its sick and addicted prisoners too.

Just four months ago, Uruguay became the first nation in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational use, with commercial regulations being issued between April 20 and 25, according to TIME, and an official launch to store shelves sometime at the end of the year. And it's going to be selling at cut-rate prices by American standards: The estimated price in Uruguay for cannabis will be just $1 (USD) per gram, about one-eighth of the average price in Colorado, thus far the only legal state-side market.

But even those behind bars in Uruguay will benefit from its nation's new liberal stance toward medical and recreational uses for marijuana. On Tuesday, Julio Calzada, Uruguay's drug czar, confirmed that prisoners across Uruguay with a prescription for medical marijuana would be granted their medicine, not just for physical ailments but mental disorders too.

As the country sets to work incorporating medical cannabis into its public health system alongside other homeopathic cures and alternative treatments like acupuncture, its undersecretary for public health, Leonel Briozzo, was speaking at a U.N. event on the topic of women, drug policy and incarceration about his department's aims to start using medical cannabis in Uruguay's jails not just for medical and mental health ailments but also as a treatment for those addicted to hard drugs, particularly a cocaine paste popular among inmate populations called "pasta base" or "paco."

According to Huffington Post, Briozzo hopes that medical marijuana "can play a role" in providing relief to the many thousands suffering behind bars in his country with serious drug addiction.

"Jail is not a very suitable place for someone to safely overcome drug addiction," he said during the U.N. event, which means that "new strategies for drug addiction treatment, especially for harder drugs like 'pasta base'," were greatly needed.

Others appear to be supportive of Uruguay's plans. Says Coletta Youngers, with 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."

[Image courtesy of Correo del Orinoco]