Over the past year, the world has eyed Latin America as it has forged forward, in both policy and politics, with a rethink of the “war on drugs.” (See our recent cover story on “Latin America reinventing the war on drugs” here.) But tomorrow, the world will be watching the United States, the birthplace of the “war on drugs,” as three states vote on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala face the need to modify their approach to the fight against drug trafficking and are urging the world to do the same. But Mexico and Colombia’s willingness to make the necessary changes is unclear. The three countries are connected by a powerful circuit of trafficking of drugs – whose main market is the United States – weapons and money from illegal activities. But the extent of the problem and the way drug organisations operate in each one of these countries vary.
Michael Weissenstein, E. Eduardo Castillo (Associated Press)
07 November 2012
The legalization of recreational marijuana in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado will force Mexico to rethink its efforts to halt marijuana smuggling across the border, the main adviser to Mexico's president-elect said. Luis Videgaray, head of incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto's transition team, told Radio Formula that the Mexican administration taking power in three weeks remains opposed to drug legalization.
The legalisation of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, which will allow the drug to be taxed and regulated, in two U.S. states will prompt debate on anti-drug policies in Mexico as well, and on the coordination of strategies between the two countries, experts say. “The least bad option is legalisation,” Jorge Chabat, at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), told IPS. “It will have an impact on the way prohibition is designed, because there will be a cascade effect, and we’ll see changes very soon.”
The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has left Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his team scrambling to reformulate their anti-drug strategies in light of what one senior aide said was a referendum that “changes the rules of the game.” It is too early to know what Mexico’s response to the successful ballot measures will be, but a top aide said Peña Nieto and members of his incoming administration will discuss the issue with President Obama and congressional leaders in Washington this month.
A group of Latin American leaders declared that votes by two U.S. states to legalize marijuana have important implications for efforts to quash drug smuggling, offering the first government reaction from a region increasingly frustrated with the U.S.-backed war on drugs. The declaration by the leaders of Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica did not explicitly say they were considering weakening their governments' efforts against marijuana smuggling, but it strongly implied the votes last week in Colorado and Washington would make enforcement of marijuana bans more difficult.
The story of the Mexican drug war has generally focused on the violence perpetrated by drug cartels and the apparent inability to bring so many criminals to justice. Unfortunately—while it’s true many have evaded justice—there remain many more people who use drugs and those with very low levels of involvement in the drug trade, who have been swept up in recent crackdowns.
Now that the voters in Colorado and Washington have approved marijuana legalization initiatives, attention has turned quickly to questions surrounding implementation—and in particular to speculation over how the federal government might react. This is entirely understandable, since it is no secret that the newly approved state initiatives conflict with federal law.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon says the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in two U.S. states limits that country's "moral authority" to ask other nations to combat or restrict illegal drug trafficking. Calderon says the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado represents a fundamental change that requires the rethinking of public policy in the entire Western Hemisphere.
A leftist Mexican lawmaker on Thursday presented a bill to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana, adding to a growing chorus of Latin American politicians who are rejecting the prohibitionist policies of the United States. The bill is unlikely to win much support in Congress since a strong majority of Mexicans are firmly against legalizing drugs, but may spur a broader debate in Mexico after two U.S. states voted to allow recreational use of marijuana last week.
Ending the consumption and the trafficking of illegal drugs is “impossible”, according to Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s outgoing president. In an interview with The Economist Mr Calderón, whose battle with organised crime has come to define his six years in office, said that countries whose citizens consume drugs should find "market mechanisms" to prevent their money from getting into the hands of criminals in Latin America.
Like a growing number of Latin American leaders, Peña, who takes office Dec. 1, says it may be time to reassess the drug war. In an interview with TIME, Peña has made his first direct remarks on the U.S. marijuana-legalization measures and how they complicate a four-decade-old drug interdiction strategy that has been widely branded a failure in both Mexico and the U.S.
Faced with this soiled wedge between state legislation and federal law within the United States, Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his advisors have already concluded there will have to be a significant change in their anti-narcotics policy. Weeding out the marijuana issue was prudently left to behind closed door discussions.
Mexico's new president has outlined a security strategy aimed at reducing drug war-related violence that, rhetorically at least, contrasts starkly with the emphasis his predecessor placed on using force to go after the cartels. For all the changes of tone, however, it remains unclear how different the strategy will be on the ground, aside, perhaps, from more funds dedicated to social projects aimed at disadvantaged youths at risk of being sucked into organised crime.