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Uruguay’s Cannabis Pioneer President Steps Down: Did He Shape the Industry for the Better?

September 1, 2015

Uruguay’s President, José “Pepe” Mujica, also known as the “Pauper President” who famously drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, is stepping down from office. The “world’s most humble president” donated 90 percent of his salary to charity and departed his presidency with a nearly 70 percent approval rating.

Mujica leaves behind a grand legacy, including the first countrywide legalization of cannabis as well as a thriving economy. Under his leadership, salaries rose (although he retained a salary on par with the average Uruguayan, about $775 per month) and unemployment rates dropped to historically low levels. He is also known for legalizing abortions and gay marriage during his term.

Known to his people as “Pepe,” Mujica was a guerilla freedom fighter and farmer who was shot six times and imprisoned for 14 years for opposing the country’s former dictatorship. Now, however, he lives a simple life on his farm, with his three-legged dog, Manuela, on the outskirts of Montevideo. Mujica is rarely seen in anything but “casual” clothes, eschewing ties for more simple apparel.

He’s been called “the world’s poorest president,” a title he objects to:

“I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle and always want more and more.”

He’s also known to many as the “president every other country would like to have,” to which Pepe responded:

“All I do is live my life like the majority of my people, not like the minority. I’m living a normal life and Italian, Spanish leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn’t be aspiring to or copying the rich minority.”

Mujica passes the torch to Tabare Vasquez, a 75 year-old oncologist who has pledged to continue with Mujica’s plans for a state-run cannabis market, albeit with more caution than his predecessor, saying, “We will analyze with much care. And if at any moment we see it isn’t working, we won’t hesitate to make the necessary corrections.”

You shall be missed, Pepe, but here's hoping your legacy will live on through Uruguay's historic and groundbreaking legal cannabis industry.

Image source: "Presidents Obama and Mujica 2014" by Office of the White House – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.