How Regulating Marijuana Could End Mexico’s Drug War

Sep 08, 2010

Cartels, FireDogLake, Gary Johnson, Hector Aguilar Camin, Huffington Post, Jorge G. Castaneda, Mexico, Nexos, Washington Post

Two must-read op-eds from last week explain why ending marijuana prohibition is perhaps the only effective way to curtail the ever-increasing violence plaguing Mexico:

In The Washington Post, Hector Aguilar Camín, publisher of the Mexican magazine Nexos, and Jorge G. Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister who teaches at New York University, write that California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for adults, “may, at long last, offer Mexico the promise of an exit from our costly war on drugs.”

The debate here is not framed in terms of personal drug use but rather whether legalization would do anything to abate Mexico's nightmarish violence and crime. There are reasons to think that it would: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has said that up to 60 percent of Mexican drug cartels' profits come from marijuana. While some say the real figure is lower, pot is without question a crucial part of their business. Legalization would make a significant chunk of that business vanish. As their immense profits shrank, the drug kingpins would be deprived of the almost unlimited money they now use to fund recruitment, arms purchases and bribes.

In addition, legalizing marijuana would free up both human and financial resources for Mexico to push back against the scourges that are often, if not always correctly, attributed to drug traffickers and that constitute Mexicans' real bane: kidnapping, extortion, vehicle theft, home assaults, highway robbery and gunfights between gangs that leave far too many innocent bystanders dead and wounded. Before Mexico's current war on drugs started, in late 2006, the country's crime rate was low and dropping. Freed from the demands of the war on drugs, Mexico could return its energies to again reducing violent crime.

And in a piece published on FireDogLake and The Huffington Post, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson says U.S. officials need to stop funding Mexico's drug war and instead “welcome the debate on marijuana prohibition,” — something our current drug czar has repeatedly spurned.

America’s policy for almost 70 years has been to keep marijuana—arguably no more harmful than alcohol and used by 15 million Americans every month—confined to the illicit market, meaning we’ve given criminals a virtual monopoly on something that U.S. researcher Jon Gettman estimates is a $36 billion a year industry, greater than corn and wheat combined. We have implemented laws that are not enforceable, which has thereby created a thriving black market. By denying reality and not regulating and taxing marijuana, we are fueling not only this massive illicit economy, but a war that we are clearly losing.

The latest Prop 19 poll shows the initiative ahead 47-43, so its likelihood of passing is still anyone’s guess. But if it does pass, Camín and Castañeda say Prop 19 will “enhance [Mexican President] Calderon’s moral authority in pressing President Obama” and allow the Mexican government “to more actively lobby the U.S. government for wider changes in drug policy.”

All the more reason for Californians to turn out and vote yes on 19 this November.