Prop 19 Would Help Defuse Mexico’s Drug War

Passage of California’s Proposition 19, which aims to legalize recreational marijuana, could help ease the spiralling violence of Mexico’s drug war.

Approval of the statewide ballot initiative on Nov. 2 would allow local governments to tax and regulate the limited possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults age 21 and over.

Besides offering the cash-strapped state a new source of revenue and jobs, Proposition 19 would also help pave the way for a much-needed drug policy shift south of the border.

In Mexico, turf battles between warring cartels and local authorities have turned wholesale massacres and brazen daytime shootouts into a daily occurrence.

The social and economic costs for California’s southern neighbour are staggering.

Violence has claimed more than 28,000 lives since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006. And his government has spent more than $10 billion in fighting the cartels — $1.4 billion of it from U.S. taxpayers. But to no avail.

Approval of Proposition 19 in California would help give Mexico the breathing room it needs for a fundamental course correction.

Last year, former presidents from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico issued a joint report, calling for a “paradigm shift” that includes the decriminalization of marijuana. “We need to break the taboo that’s blocking an honest debate,” they said.

Proposition 19 is helping reignite that debate.

The main destination for marijuana — and thus the main problem — remains the United States. The White House estimates that the Mexican cartels make 60 percent of their profits from marijuana. While some analysts say the number is inflated, the dollar value of the cross-border marijuana trade is undoubtedly worth billions.

Recently, a single marijuana shipment busted by Mexican authorities was alone valued at $340 million. This kind of money buys a lot of influence in Mexico.

As in the booze-running days of Al Capone, drug prohibition similarly drives the trade further underground, swelling the coffers of the violent narco-syndicates. Investigations by Mexican authorities have linked this financial clout to increasingly vast corruption networks in which police and local politicians are on the cartels’ payroll.

Passage of Proposition 19 — and the possibility that other U.S. states might follow suit — would sap an important source of revenue for the drug traffickers, driving down both violence and corruption. So, Proposition 19 is not just about allowing the recreational use of marijuana in California. It’s also about the survival of Mexico.

Teo Ballve is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

– Article from Winnipeg Free Press.

Mexico put on the spot by events north of the border

by Adam Thomson, Financial Times

Mexican police and soldiers in the northern border city of Tijuana last week made the largest seizure of packaged marijuana the country has yet seen: 15,300 neatly wrapped parcels weighing in at 134 tonnes and coded with pictures ranging from a schoolbook illustration of a dog to a portrait of Homer Simpson.

Yet, as the centre-right administration of President Felipe Calderón was claiming another victory in its war on drugs, Californians a stone’s throw from where the seizure took place were gearing up to vote on whether to legalise marijuana via a statewide ballot on November 2.

The timing of the two events has highlighted the divergent responses of authorities to the consumption of drugs, and has focused attention on how the vote may affect things south of the border.

Even Mr Calderón himself, who has made combating drugs cartels the centrepiece of his administration and has spoken out against legalising narcotics, admitted that the California vote placed Mexico in an awkward position.

“It is going to create a problem that is very tough to resolve,” he told La Razón newspaper this month. “If approved, it is going to be very hard to imprison a peasant who is growing marijuana to sell to the Californians.”

In Mexico, it is permitted to have small quantities of marijuana and other drugs – though it is still illegal to buy and sell them. Privately, government officials say the California vote on full legalisation is “very demoralising” for Mexico as it fights to contain the country’s powerful criminal gangs.

Much of the attention has centred on to what extent a yes vote – if its implementation is not held up by federal law – would affect business for those criminal structures.

According to a study by the Rand Corporation, a US think-tank, Mexican drug-trafficking cartels supply between 40 per cent and 67 per cent of all marijuana consumed in the US with a value of between $1.1bn and $2bn. But the study adds that legalisation of marijuana in California may not have much of an effect on profits.

One reason, it argues, is that marijuana sales to the US make up between 15 per cent and 26 per cent of the cartels’ total revenue. A second reason is that California accounts for about 7 per cent of the US market for Mexican marijuana. Mexican profits from marijuana could be hurt, however, if Californian marijuana started to displace Mexican sales in other states.

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– Article from Financial Times.