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World’s No. 2 pot-growing nation says it won’t legalize

In the wake of neighboring Uruguay’s marijuana revolution, Paraguay’s president wants to keep pot illegal.

LIMA, Peru — Has Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes been watching “Reefer Madness”?

That’s the burning question after the recently elected conservative leader responded to neighboring Uruguay’s decision to legalize marijuana with remarks reminiscent of the 1930s scaremongering anti-pot flick.

“I have seen former high school classmates suffer and die because of the effects of marijuana,”said Cartes, 57, explaining why his administration would not also be legalizing the soft drug.

His views are significant given that Paraguay actually grows vast quantities of weed, supplying much of the marijuana that’s smoked across South America. They also go against a regional mood increasingly in favor of relaxing pot laws.

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According to the United Nations, landlocked Paraguay is thought to be the world’s second-biggest producer nation of marijuana after Mexico, and responsible for 15 percent of global supply.

More from GlobalPost: In-depth series: Legalize it

That’s far more than Paraguay’s population of 6.7 million could possibly smoke, even if they were all named Cheech, Chong or Snoop Dog.

But despite that dubious national CV, Cartes’ views about the health impacts of cannabis appear to be about as fact-based as “Reefer Madness.”

Produced by a Christian group as an educational tool but then marketed as a commercial film, it depicts high school stoners engaging in some seriously anti-social behavior, climaxing in murder and attempted rape.

Although the health impacts of cannabis are hotly disputed, the president’s suggestion that it is a killer — as opposed to something that makes a person simply slow or lazy — appears to fall well outside the scientific consensus.

Neither the website of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse nor that of the World Health Organization backs up Cartes’ claims. That’s despite both agencies taking a clearly disapproving view of pot.

Eduardo Vergara, one of Latin America’s leading drug policy reform campaigners, accused Cartes of misinformed scaremongering that only served to discredit cannabis prohibition and Washington’s “war on drugs.”

“These kind of stories, based on supposedly personal experiences and bearing no relation to the science and what we actually know about cannabis, are just pathetic and are not fit to come out of the mouth of an elected leader,” Vergara, of the Chile-based Latin American Observatory on Drugs Policy and Public Opinion, told GlobalPost.

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Nevertheless, there’s at least one group likely to be delighted by Cartes’ remarks: Paraguayan drug lords.

If there were legalization in Paraguay and most of the rest of South America, those cartel kingpins would see their multibillion-dollar profits go up in smoke. But as long as pot remains underground in most of the region, their criminal business model should not be in danger.

More from GlobalPost: 8 reasons Uruguay’s not all that