By Allen Douglas
The legalization of the use of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington states has changed the rules of the game for the anti-drug efforts in Mexico. Washington supports Mexican soldiers in the destruction of clandestine marijuana plantations whose crops are destined for the United States.
I think more and more Mexicans will respond in a similar fashion, as we ask ourselves why are Mexican troops up in the mountains of Sinaloa and Guerrero and Durango looking for marijuana, and why are we searching for tunnels, patrolling the borders, when once this product reaches Colorado it becomes legal,” said Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico and an advocate for ending what he calls an “absurd war.”
A top aide to Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto says votes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state will force the Mexican government to rethink its efforts at trying to halt marijuana smuggling across the southwestern border.
Luis Videgaray, former general coordinator of Mr. Pena Nieto’s presidential campaign this year and now head of the transition team, told Radio Formula 970 in Mexico City that the new administration has consistently opposed the legalization of drugs, and the Colorado and Washington votes conflict with his government’s long-standing and costly efforts to eradicate the cultivation and smuggling of marijuana.
“These important modifications change somewhat the rules of the game in the relationship with the United States,” Mr. Videgaray said. “I think we have to carry out a review of our joint policies in regard to drug trafficking and security in general.
“Obviously, we can’t handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it is now legal.
Mr. Videgaray is expected to play a significant role in the Pena Nieto administration. The president-elect, who will assume office Dec. 1, said in September that Mr. Videgaray would head the team that will set policy direction for the new government.
The White House has issued no comment on Mr. Videgaray’s remarks.
Officials at the Mexican Embassy in Washington declined to comment, noting that the Pena Nieto administration is part of the PRI while they belong to the Partido Accion Nacional, or the PAN.
“There is a sense of frustration throughout Latin America about the steep costs of confronting drug trafficking. And these votes in the United States, and the reaction to them, might signal a willingness for the countries to think outside of the box on drug policy,” said Eric Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Both Obama, as he enters his second term, and Pena Nieto as he begins his new administration face huge problems with this issue.
Obama, in his first term, was a staunch opponent to legalizing drugs. Within the last year, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told Central American leaders that legalization “is not the way” to stop drug trafficking. And on a visit to Mexico, Vice President Joe Biden repeated the message, saying legalization in the region would create more problems than it solves, such as an increase in drug addiction.
Obama must also consider the various treaties and UN policies that classify marijauna a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance,described as “notable” the silence of Obama administration officials who two years ago spoke out against California’s Proposition 19 but refrained from intervening this year.
He attributed the silence of the Obama administration — and of the Mitt Romney campaign — to “political judgments” based on a Gallup poll last year that found for the first time that 50 percent of Americans supported making marijuana legal and 46 percent were opposed. He said public support has shifted dramatically over the past two decades — especially over the past five years — as majorities of men, 18- to 49-year-olds, liberals, moderates, independents, Democrats and voters in Western, Midwestern and Eastern states now support making marijuana legal.
U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh said in a statement only that the Justice Department’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act “remains unchanged.” His spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, also said that “no further statement or comment, on or off the record, will be made at this point in time.”
Pena Nieto will also have some difficult decisions to make. Should Mexico legalize marijuana? What effect will stopping or lessening the effort to stop marijuana smuggling have on programs like the Merida Initiative where the US was paying Mex. $1.6 billion to aid in fanancing the war on drugs? What effect will the partial legalization of drugs have on the flow of drug money that pours into Mexico and is largely absorbed into the economy?
It really is a new ball game.
Words are powerful weapons, be careful how you use them.
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