Expat Life

The marijuana situation in Latin America, Ecuador, and Cuenca’s expat community; ‘the times they are a changin’

By Sylvan Hardy

Uruguay has become the only country in the world with legal, regulated, recreational-marijuana sales, the world’s first and only state-run marijuana marketplace. An omnibus marijuana law was passed in 2013, of which two major elements have gone into effect.

First, individuals are now allowed to grow up to six plants (17 ounces) at home; second, marijuana clubs of up to 45 individuals can band together to produce marijuana communally (up to 99 plants per year).

The fate of the most controversial aspect of the law — the licensing of farmers for large-scale production, user registration in a national database for the purchase of up tpot 1o nearly one and a half ounces per month, taxation, quality control, and the sale of state-controlled pot to consumers at pharmacies — remains undetermined.

Although Uruguay has taken the lead, many Latin American countries have implemented or are currently considering the decriminalization or outright legalizing of marijuana use. There’s almost universal agreement in Central and South America that current U.S.-led efforts to control illegal
drugs have failed. Often unstated is the feeling among government leaders that Latin America has borne the bloody brunt of the U.S. and Europe’s insatiable drug appetite.

According to Wikipedia, Argentina has decriminalized pot, which is tolerated for private consumption; marijuana is also decriminalized in Colombia (possession up to 22 grams for personal use) and Peru (up to eight grams); and in Chile, possession is still illegal, but medical marijuana has been decriminalized.

In June 2013, Ecuador, too, decriminalized the possession of small amounts (10 grams) of marijuana when the National Council of Control of Narcotic and Psychotropic Drugs (CONSEP) published a table of drug-possession limits.

The rule didn’t constitute a “legalization” of pot (and three other drugs); rather, police were ordered not to make arrests for quantities below the limits listed in the CONSEP table.

As is true all over the world, in Ecuador, the legality or lack thereof of marijuana seems to have little connection to its popularity among users. Marijuana grows year-round in Ecuador, whose climate is favorable for cultivation. Connoisseurs tend to agree that Ecuador’s pot is of medium quality, which is reflected in the price. Purchased from local growers or middlemen, an ounce of low-quality cannabis runs as low as $30, while average-quality costs $50 and high-quality can fetch up to $75.  Notable strains, such as Punto Rojo, Mango, Skunk, and Chola, some of which come from Peru and Colombia, can go as high as $300 an ounce.

Though the growing and selling of cannabis is strictly prohibited, personal use has been widely tolerated during the administration of Presidente Rafael Correa. You can sniff out the pungent aroma of burning cannabis on many streets and public stairways in Cuenca, often in the proximity of police, who aren’t looking to arrest pot smokers.

Expats from North America, many of whom have been smoking weed for decades, manage to find their drug of choice, whether in amounts that are decriminalized or illegal, through small informal networks of friends and fellow pot heads. The deals are almost totally private, though I’ve heard that, at least in one instance, when a gringo got a little too close to some Ecuadorian pot dealers known to the police, he was quietly warned to take his business elsewhere.

The latest wrinkle in the expat-community’s pot consumption centers around “bonbons,” or cannabis-infused chocolates. Recipes vary from kitchen to kitchen, of course, but the basic idea is to grind the pot finely in a blender, then combine it with melted butter and cook it at a low temperature (a slow cooker is ideal) for 30 to 60 minutes (or longer); add melted chocolate, stir well, pour into a chocolate mold, and refrigerate. A pound of butter, a pound of chocolate, and an ounce of pot will make roughly 100 bonbons. Other ingredients might include pure vanilla or mint extract, heavy cream, and nuts.

bonbons One bonbon enthusiast claims that Cuenca has  become a fundamentally different place since the  introduction of marijuana chocolates a year or so  ago.

 “In some surprising ways, Cuenca now reminds me  of Greenwich Village in the sixties and seventies,”  he says. “At any given time, perhaps a hundred  expats are floating, literally, around town, high on bonbons, emitting the mellowest vibrations, which, to my mind anyway, go a long way toward counteracting the aggressiveness that’s common to alcohol drinkers.

“And, of course, behind closed doors, another hundred or so are emitting other kinds of vibes. Because bonbons are ingested and metabolized by the liver, they’re converted into an active metabolite that causes a more intense high and stronger body effects. Beyond that, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.”

  • Jane

    They call it “dope” for a reason. I don’t understand why people want to be dumber than they are.

    • michael grosser

      I smoke it so I won’t be like you Dear Jane….if “they” called it “enhanced appreciation of life”
      would it be OK? Pobrecita….

      • Luther Beckett

        Jane… lol

    • donkeyslobber

      takes one to know one.

    • paulvonhartmann

      Because it doesn’t make people dumb. Maybe you should try it before you judge others.

      • Jack Woods

        Exactly.

  • Julius Talbot

    The most recent and prevailing opinion in South America is that the War on Drugs has bankrupt them for a problem that is not theirs. The money spent in the last 45 years would have served their people better if it had been put into roads or healthcare. For example, marijuana usage is 200 times more an issue in the Western world than iin Ecuador. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annual_cannabis_use_by_country

    The active ingredient in marijuana is, indeed, easily butter soluble. The recipe in the article is unnecessarily tedious. No need to do anything but slow boil the stuff with water and butter for 20 minutes, strain and then refrigerate until the butter solidifies again. The butter can now be used anyway you would use butter, but most often in cookies, brownies or chocolates. For the growing group who use marijuana under prescription for medical reasons, (it makes many cancers’ pain bearable) digesting marijuana is a much healthier and easier method than smoking the stuff. (ugh!)

    BEWARE. Though marijuana is essentially harmless, unregulated marijuana can often be very unhealthy. Dealers will often soak it in all sorts of nasty stuff to increase its apparent weight. For example, mercury is a favorite. And mercury, eaten or smoked (mercuric oxide) is very toxic. That is why users are forced to grow their own. Their goal is their own safety,

    The article alludes to an excellent cure marijuana can provide many people, especially in a food format. It is an excellent substitute for alcohol, either for addicts or social drinkers. It has none of the vertigo, various sicknesses and body damage that comes along with drinking and it does not produce anger and agressivity. Most importantly, cannabis is not physically addictive as regular alcohol usage is. (Though there are those who can become life-style habituated to it.) So, many people use it to wean themselves off alcohol and then go on to stop their marijuana with ease.

    The sad thing about the article is that it largely ignores a discussion of the more potent and prevalent expat problem, heavy drinking. There is no secret that heavy drinking is more of an expat issue than marijuana will ever be. It has shaped the perception of expats. It is very sad (and curious) that no one is brave enough to write about that.

  • FIREYMOM

    Pot should be legal, and alcohol should be illegal.

    • michael grosser

      Freedom should be legal and not minding your own bees wax should be illegal….
      (Remember you heard it hear first foax)

  • This story took me right back to the ’70s, which is when I went to college. Loved the recipes for bonbons!

  • Patrick

    Far-Out , Man !

  • Gee, now that more people have the recipe maybe more expats can use it…. duh.

  • John Howard

    Fireymom: “should” is the most addictive substance known to man. Busybodies and powerlusters are everywhere, wrecking civilization because, in their “should”-induced mental haze, they actually believe they know what should and should not be forced on everyone else. Since none of them can agree, the result is to encourage everyone to advocate forcing everything on everyone else. The social wreckage from all that violence continues to victimize everyone. There is no known cure for should except individualism, but where’s the fun in just minding your own business when there’s a whole big world out there just ripe for more meddling.

  • Aleck Inglis

    Jane,

    If your experience of marijauna made you feel stupid, that would be very odd. It could be that your stock was doctored. On the other hand, if you are making your assertions without experience, the condition could be inherent. These subjects are best discussed with facts rather than propaganda from others.

    Dope is an American term. It is used to refer to heroin. It was only used to refer to marijuana in the US for a short period after that government classified both heroin and marijuana as the same legally, though there was no basis for that chemically, biologically or medically. A government can call a flatbed Ford an elephant, but it does not make it true. Heroin is an opiate, and will indeed leave users in a dazed, even deadly state. No one has ever died from marijuana.

    Marijuana has become the most widely used drug on the planet, aside from alcohol. But that is saying a lot. 3.8% of the world admit to have taken marijuana, at least once in their lives. That compares to 24% of the world who will admit to binge drinking at least once in the last month. Our hospitals, insurance companies and governments put out trillions dealing with the health and other costs related to alcohol consumption. No one has ever died from marijuana. Its only costs are in chasing and incarcerating those who serve or take it. Would logic not suggest we do the same with alcohol consumers?

    Of course, that cannot happen. The best we can hope for is to tempt drinkers to a less costly and safer habit. Marijuana is easy to grow, (it is in truth a very stubborn weed that grows anywhere and in any climate.And one tour of today’s England or many other western nations and you will come back PROUD and relieved that US young people have chosen marijuana over alcohol.

    In case you are wondering, I do not presently drink alcohol or take marijuana in any form. If I am addicted to anything, it is my wife and a lively discussion. 😉 I prefer to focus on what is possible.

  • John

    Really? You used the phrase “pot heads?” Let’s be a little more objective in our language in this day and age about this topic.

    • paulvonhartmann

      “It takes a ‘head to get ahead.”

  • gin arnold

    I have been smoking for 40 years, and very short of 73, and every doctor I have had is aware that I smoke. Tobacco should be illegal but if you choose to smoke, that is your business, and mine to smoke my choice. The only reason pot is illegal in the States is—————follow the money.

  • Bill Easley

    I see lots of opinion stated here, but none on “follow the money”. When I use the “follow the money” term, I mean the larger financial picture. Stop to think about how much is spent to support the health care, law enforcement, prisons, and the governments that manage the alcohol and drug activities and the results of the continued heavy use of tobacco and alcohol. These are heavily taxed and most people don’t know how to make their own booze or cigarettes. Anyone can grow marijuana and harvest it. In short, huge and profitable industries have grown up around tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drug use and these need to be both protected and supported. Pot is the “outsider” that reduces the profit of these massive industries. Something cheap and harmless (like marijuana) is a dangerous financial impostor.

  • Bob

    Put’s Cuenca “High” life in a whole new light. 🙂

  • hotspringfreak

    “It’ll wreck ‘yer Lungs Jim” – Werewolf of London, Warren Zevon

    • Devon_Nullman

      I know it’s been a year but your comment is so inaccurate I had to reply.
      First, it’s “Werewolves of London” and It’s “He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim”
      The only thing you got right was the artist’s name.

  • Ken Merena

    Bravisimo, Mr. Howard, for your brilliant and insightful comments:

    “John Howard
    January 25, 2015

    Fireymom: “should” is the most addictive substance known to man. Busybodies and powerlusters are everywhere, wrecking civilization because, in their “should”-induced mental haze, they actually believe they know what should and should not be forced on everyone else. Since none of them can agree, the result is to encourage everyone to advocate forcing everything on everyone else. The social wreckage from all that violence continues to victimize everyone. There is no known cure for should except individualism, but where’s the fun in just minding your own business when there’s a whole big world out there just ripe for more meddling.”

    As a Libertarian and free thinker, I applaud your attitude. I’ve never smoked dope, done drugs or taken a drink of alcohol in my life, but may my soul rot in hell if I ever try to influence you or anybody else in that regard.

    One of my latest pet peeves is the other two rags that are published for expats here and both of whom have the word Gringo in their titles. Their pitiful attempts at censorship and the requirement that all posts be Minnesota Nice is sickening and they are truly a reflection of their ownership, which is dull, uneducated and pitiful. I’m glad that Cuenca High Life seems to appeal to a higher intellect and their ownership seems to reflect this as well.

    Kenneth A. Merena, Ph.D.

  • Contrarian

    My father used to say, “Anything the government touches, turns to shit.” Dealing with addictions in the USA fits. I used to wonder about 2 things – why someone would put ‘stuff’ into their body and the hypocrisy of the drunks beating up on the ‘pot heads’ (yes, not objective; deal!). Then I started drinking. I also stopped on my own. I understand the need many have to put ‘stuff’ into their bodies. I neither condone nor .deter their behaviors until I get effected.

    But, as someone said, ‘follow the money’. The expectation of men to stop by the bar after work, the millions spent on booze advertisements and try to have a party without booze. Then we complain about the drunkenness, the tens of thousands killed by drunk drivers. We tried prohibition – didn’t work. The politicians who get large contributions from the alcohol beverage industry won’t do anything. And the hypocrisy of drunks complaining about druggies.

    Highest amount addictions in the USA – medical professionals and prescription drugs. Think the medical insurance cartel will allow anything to be done about that. Not a chance.

    Locally, I think it best is to let gringos do anything they want to reduce their stress. Otherwise they will revert to their other addictions – gossiping and complaining.

  • Phil

    God gives us explisit use of Marijuana in the Bible at Genesis 1,29. Maybe not to smoke it though, GO BONBONS.

  • JC

    Funny that those with the least experience are the most vocal opponents…

  • They have the same problem with sex…or countries and cultures they have never visited.

  • Tamara Scallion

    Dope is something straighters call it or the police..it doesnt make you dumber and dont hate just because you dont like it..I’m sure you have no problem with your martini or wine ,which by the way hosts a lot more side affects and physical/ mental issues!!! Jane.

  • Martica Leonard

    Jane, it’s also called medical marijuana for a reason…..helping countless numbers of people with horrific medical conditions that Big Pharma does not begin to address.

    • Lannie Loeks

      Now effectively being used to stop epilepsy…and glioblastoma (brain cancer). Other cancers as well. See: The Truth About Cancer, A Global Quest. I think it might be episode 8.

  • Tom

    Having just arrived in Cuenca 8 days ago I still don’t know where to get my medicine ( I am a medical MJ user,with license) it seems to be a little sketchy as there isn’t a dispensary available. Can doctors in Cuenca authorize MJ purchases? Thanks,tom

  • Isabella Jones

    John Howard – very well said John. It’s a pity your principles aren’t known and practiced much more widely than they are. The amount of stress and violence all over the world would go down exponentially if they were.

    • Tom

      I posted a query jul 10 re mj but no advice yet,so will try here.Unlike Uraguay which having come out of the closet,you know where they stand.what about Equador? What is the LAW regarding personal use of mj?
      Thank you.tom

  • Miamiredbird

    I find it beyond hilarious how religious people will use scripture for all kind of things…..But for some reason, Genesis 1:29 doesnt apply here….LOL…..He gives us EVERY seed bearing plant…..Marijuana is a plant right ? LOL

  • michael grosser

    This is a public service announcement that goes out to those who are less experienced and may be contemplating marijuana use. This article addresses edible marijuana as if it were an alternative to smoking however smoking and ingesting are almost two separate and different things.
    When one smokes he/she is able to feel, “wow, I’m stoned…I’m good…I’ve had enough” and pass on the next hit or let the joint go out. That person will then continue to “get higher” for a short time, then the buzz will dissipate slowly. However once one pokes an edible down their pie hole the experience is way less predictable. Are you eating on an empty or full stomach? BIG Diff !
    A very common problem when ingesting is someone may have a portion, wait 20-30 and decide they “don’t feel anything” . Of course, have another. Another 20 min and it’s “yeah I think I’m starting to come on to it but I think may be just one more little piece. BOOM…time bomb in the belly! The high is different and can trigger anxiety/panic in someone not prepared for the ride. The intensity will continue to increase for an extended period of time as the edible is digested. At that point you are dosed and are in for a long ride before you come down…and if you having issues with seeing God or Death or whatever , it can be a LONG unpleasant bumpy ride (not for the squeamish) Strive to adhere to consistant receipe/source (as much as this is possible….many varibles apply)
    Pot and it’s effects are subjective, of course. I have had an on going love affair with reefer madness
    for 47 yrs now….I’m an expat in Mex from Humboldt Co. Ca. I am totally pro pot…..that is why I want to protect it’s good name and not see people get in trouble with it. So PLEEZ be careful my Darlings and use plenty of common sense when eating….I have seen people “get in over their heads” and come away with a negative experience. And above all….Be careful that you do not leave your electric treats out where some unsuspecting person (child…grandmother…etc) can get into them. You will be and should be in big big trouble if little Johnny decides to take the wrong plate of brownies to school to share with the class and teacher. OK dat’s all Foax !

  • Jessica

    Hmmmm
    “Expats from North America, many of whom have been smoking weed for decades,,,” How do you know that?
    “…floating, literally”? I don’t think so!

  • Andrew

    If you went to a sports stadium and were offered seats with the alcohol drinkers, or the pot smokers which would you choose? I would opt for the pot smokers because most I’ve met are gentle and relaxed. Alcohol has a very bad effect on people.

  • johndenton46

    I live in Cuenca centro and do not see stoned gringos ‘floating’ around. I also don’t smell weed on the streets. I own it and use it btw. Local cops aren’t as aggressive as US cops are.

  • Steve Brown

    Make all tobacco products illegal globally and legalize marijuana. This will save trillions of dollars and hundreds of millions of lives every year. Tobacco is the ”Killer”.

  • QuanellEleven

    I don’t call it “dope”. You do apparently. That is your choice, don’t mess with mine.

  • EdGar Toepel

    Colorado legalized it and has had untold revenue for the schools and government. Instead of spending money running after the users,, they now enjoy the revenue. We have a growing state and the money to support it. Ecuador needs tourism, ecuador needs the money,, legalize it. It is a personal decision to use it or not. There is a lot of people relying on it medically, it is safer than lots of other pharmaceuticals and shows promise as they discover more and more about what it can do for pain. Why would it make you upset that some people use it.. are happy using it,, makes their pain less, makes them sleep better, no hangovers…. and if they are eating chocolate and they are women,, it is so much better for all you men!!

    • Chuck Brown

      Google “states where marajuana pot legal USA”.
      Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington for recreational use and some plants too to harvest your own home grown pot.

      Follow the money, it’s now sales taxed and the income derived from sales is now IRS and state income tax fodder… and quality regulated. Adding higher octane drugs to it as is sometimes done on the black market is now officially illegal (but it was anyway.dahh).
      The same laws about driving while drunk apply to driving under pot’s influence. If a law officer thinks that a driver is unqualified to drive safely, no matter what is in his/her blood stream, it can mean a breath test for booze or a blood test for other substances. If an employer hires a pot user, the pot user legally has to divulge this in the job interview before being hired, and/or sustain a hair or urine sample test, including medical legal use of pot…to screen applicants to best fill job slots. A construction worker for example walking on an I beam 20 stories up, in the wind, on a rainy day, simply has to have all his/her facilities to not fall, or a high tension electrical worker likewise to not endure an electrical accident. So long as the job applicant admits to taking medical pot, and presents prescription receipts to the job interviewer, all is cool. The applicant will be considered for certain aspects of work where being high doesn’t particularly matter. If the applicant is hired and does NOT present that documentation, he/she can be legally fired even though the pot is prescribed by a doctor. But the word prescription can be false as well. Federal law as far as I know prohibits doctors to prescribe pot, they can “recommend” it legally.
      I am not and will never be a pot user but as far as I am concerned, it’s not my place to judge of right and wrong about pot. It’s proven to be over twice as carcinogenic as tobacco however…but I don’t smoke either. I don’t eat dog meat or domestically produced rat meat either or eat toxic blow fish sushi, but millions of Asians do. That’s their thing, not mine…what’s legal is legal. What is legal to use as far as substances go, is just plain legal to use. I don’t make laws. I just have my own druthers. I simply don’t need help to get through a day that bad to imbibe substances other than ice cream and a little scotch…which in excess will kill you also…both…from cholesterol to failed liver respectively.
      Eating pot will have unpredictable effects as the article says, you can Google that information yourself. In the hippy sixties and seventies I heard of the common use of pot laced brownies…bon bons are the same thing. The digestive system also holds pot inside of you releasing THC all the while for a very long effect until you pass it out…about seven hours or more. Count on getting all your money’s worth from eating grass.

      • knowlton

        most interested to know your source that marijuana is “twice as carcinogenic as tobacco. Sounds like bs to me.

  • Don C.

    Yeah, okay, but where the heck can I get some….?

  • QuanellEleven

    “Literally floating ” around town? Diction errors are not tolerated! Go to your room!! I am guessing that Jane is not too much fun at parties

  • Rocio Mata

    drugs do not produce seeds, plants do, we have initiated in this country the process to de criminalize the plant, and we are going forward, as with all regulatory processes it is slow, and lots of docs and tedious paperwork, but the point here is IT IS BEING DONE, and I am grateful to the President for that!