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May 09, 2013

Colombian mobile drug lab will give partiers a chance to test their stash

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I recently wrote a story about Bogota's new public health program that aims to use medical marijuana to wean addicts off of  bazuco. Bazuco is a cheap, crack-like drug -- made with residue from cocaine processing, kerosene and sulfuric acid --that seems to turn people (at least the bazuqueros in my neighborhood) into raving, teeth-gnashing zombies. More on that below.

But Accion Tecnica Social, one of the groups spearheading that project, is launching another program today. It's called Echale cabeza cuando se de en la cabeza, which very roughly translates to: Give it some thought before you blow your mind.

In brief, ATS plans to set up mobile drug labs at raves and parties so revelers can test their pills and powders before ingesting them.

ATS has a long history of trying to promote safer partying, and this is part of that effort. But the organization's head, Julian Quintero -- who has a tattoo down his arm that reads "Nice people take drugs" -- said the labs are also likely to be a deterrent. The quality and purity of many street drugs, but particularly ecstasy and cocaine, has gone down hill, he said. The drug tests will give users a sense of how dirty their drugs truly are and how much money they might be wasting. It's an interesting idea, particularly if it can help people who are going to consume anyway do it a bit more safely.

I met the two people pictured above at a recent marijuana-legalization rally in Bogota. Although smoking and selling weed is illegal here, people are allowed to carry a small amount, known as a "personal dose," and grow their own plants. The city's new medical-marijuana initiative plans to capitalize on those laws to make the program work. 

But before you start booking flights in this direction, many partakers say the police have little regard for "minimum dose" laws and are happy to throw folks in the clink.

Now, here's the story about the marijuana-for-bazuco plan:

***

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Marijuana has long been accused of being a gateway to deadlier vices. But could cannabis be a swinging door that might also lead people away from hard drugs? That’s what this capital city is trying to find out.

In coming weeks, Bogotá is embarking on a controversial public health project where it will begin supplying marijuana to 300 addicts ofbazuco — a cheap cocaine derivative that generates crack-like highs and is as addictive as heroin.

Bogota has 7,500 bazuco users among its 9,500 homeless population, said Ruben Dario Ramirez, director of the Center for the Study and Analysis of Coexistence and Security, which is spearheading the project.

Addicts are often driven to panhandling and crime to support their habit, turning pockets of this thriving city into bazuco wastelands where junkies huddle to smoke the drug. In the last three years, 277 homeless people have been murdered, he said.

For the most desperate users, the cannabis cure may be the only way out.

“People accuse us of turning bazuco addicts into marijuana addicts but that’s an urban myth,” he said. “This program is about reducing personal harm and the risks to society.”

Authorities believe that by supplying addicts with quality-controlled medical marijuana with a high THC content (the mind-altering component of marijuana) and that is specifically selected to relieve the anxiety that comes with kicking bazuco, they might be able to rescue some of them.

The idea is controversial. Critics have accused Ramirez and his colleagues of smoking their own medicine and say the project risks making city government an enabler.

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jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

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