THE BLOG
06/21/2014 09:21 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2014

Marijuana: Cubans Need to Talk About It

Livio went on a trip and left his friends in charge of the most precious thing in his life. It wasn't a child, or a pet or even one of those home appliances so idolized in Cuba. The "apple of his eye" was a marijuana bush, grown, watered and ready to be made into the first cigarettes. Oblivious to the care such a plant requires, the astonished "babysitters" chose to put it behind the glass of a window, away from the eyes of neighbors and potential informers. It survived, but on returning from abroad its owner swore he would never again leave his precious crop in the hands of neophytes.

This is not an isolated case. Marijuana -- which we also call "María" -- is a familiar presence in the life of any Cuban. Although the media does not talk about it, it doesn't need advertising to be popular. It is smelled at parties, seen in the air at some public concerts and detected in the half-closed eyes of more than a few who appear on national television itself. It is a fact, it is here, and not only through the "bales" that come in along the coasts -- according the official press bad things always come from outside -- but also as a "made in Cuba" product, with the flavor of red earth grown among the palm trees or in the fields of marabou weed.

Havana's musical scene knows its cousin "María" very well. Some can't imagine the act of composition without this eternal friend who "whispers the lyrics in my ear." The parents of those "hooked" are relieved, thinking that at least it's not cocaine. "Softer, more therapeutic, happier," they say to comfort themselves. However, behind this apparent social acceptance of the herb is hidden a debate too-long delayed. Legalize or penalize? That's the dilemma. A question that simply asking publicly puts you on the side of the enemy.

Those very old men who govern us... have prevented discussions of modernity. I want to live in a society that questions the therapeutic use or the strict prohibition of "María." I dream of living in a country where my son, age 19, can participate, in turn, in the social debate about whether to legalize or penalize the herb that Livio cares for almost with devotion.

Not speaking of marijuana doesn't uproot it from our land. Looking away doesn't prevent thousands of cigarettes made from its leaves ending up between the lips of your children, my children, the children of others. Why don't we set aside so much prudery and start talking about what we're going to do with it? With its serrated leaves, so slender and striking... that right now are growing on countless terraces and in gardens and water tanks converted into planting beds all over this Island.

Let's see if we can stop "smoking" the cigarette of indifference and talk... about what we need to talk about.