Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Marijuana legalization to change anti-drug strategies??

Voters in Colorado and Washington states have decided to legalize marijuana for recreational use. This has added a lot of pressure on Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s shoulders. Mexico spends billions annually to implement anti-drug strategies and confront violent trafficking organizations that threaten the security of the country. The drug related violence and organized crime has consumed the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderon. Legalization of marijuana might change those strategies completely especially because U.S. is the largest consumer of drugs in the world, and about half of all the marijuana in the U.S. comes from Mexico.

Until now Mexican soldiers have been roaming around the mountains burning plantations filled with marijuana on its way to the United States. Approximately 60,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug violence and many more arrested. The Mexican President feels that it is extremely difficult to stop the transfer of a product, that is illegal in Mexico, to the United States when (at least in part of the U.S.), that product is legal. However, the Mexican President does not believe that legalizing marijuana in Mexico is the right way to handle this situation.

Many policy makers argue that if marijuana is legalized in Mexico, the source of revenue for Mexican traffickers will be disrupted, leading to a fall in crime rates. Since marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington, products grown there would compete with Mexican imports in terms of price and quality and this would impact the revenues of Mexican drug cartels. It is estimated that 15-26% of their revenues (from a total of $2 billion) come from selling marijuana across the border to the United States.

However, some other people believe that since marijuana is only one of the products that drug cartels profit from, legalizing it in two small U.S. states will not make a huge difference. They say that unless some huge state like California legalizes marijuana, the impact on the cartel bottom line is not going to be very strong. Professor Jonathan Caulkins from Carnegie Mellon University believes that legalization of marijuana in the States could allow the Mexican President to resist U.S. pressure about maintaining a hard line against smuggling groups.
But no matter what the impact on drug cartels’ revenue is, the drug violence and crime in Mexico consumes a lot of money. And this legalization step might in fact induce some out-of-the-box thinking on drug policies.

So to what extent would this legalization impact Mexico’s strategies towards drug trafficking? What should Mexico’s strategy be in this situation?

Source: The Washington Post, November 8. By William Booth.

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