Mexico bristles as some U.S. states relax marijuana laws

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 25, 2010 

MEXICO CITY — As more U.S. states permit medical marijuana, and California considers legalizing cannabis sales to adults, Mexico is voicing irritation at the gap between drug laws north and south of the border and saying it undercuts the battle against Mexico's violent drug cartels.

Mexico Secretary of the Interior Fernando Gomez Mont said last week the U.S. medical marijuana trend was "worrisome" and "complicates in a grave way" efforts to resolve Mexico's soaring drug-related violence.

The issue came to the fore earlier this week when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a high-level U.S. delegation to Mexico to discuss counter-drug strategies.

Clinton said law enforcement authorities are keeping close tabs on medical marijuana dispensaries in the 14 states where such sales are permitted. She added that she doesn't believe that the rising number of states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was a major factor in marijuana flows into the U.S. from Mexico.

"We have not changed our laws, and we do not see this as a major contributor to the continuing flow of marijuana, the vast, vast majority of which is used for recreational purposes," Clinton said.

More states are permitting medical marijuana use, and New York may become the 15th to do so. California, which pioneered medical marijuana use in 1996, is moving even faster, setting a November vote on whether to legalize personal marijuana possession and allow regulated sales of marijuana to those over age 21. If approved, the move would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

A Mexican historian and commentator, Lorenzo Meyer Cossio, said the government of President Felipe Calderon "feels offended" by the growing trend of U.S. states to allow medical marijuana, or perhaps go further as California may do. Mexican laws against marijuana and narcotics remain tough, the result of U.S. pressure dating back more than half a century, he said.

Meyer said the California initiative to legalize marijuana sales, if approved, would ripple to Mexico, underscoring the difference in legal treatment and giving impetus to decriminalization efforts.

"It is inevitable that if this occurs in California, a neighboring state that is so important to us, that there will be repercussions here," Meyer said.

Calderon, the head of a center-right party, deployed 50,000 soldiers to the border days after coming to office in late 2006 to combat the cartels, which derive huge profits from marijuana as well as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

More Mexicans than ever are dying as drug cartels battle for turf along the busiest border in the world. In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most dangerous city, more than 530 people have been slain already this year, including three people connected to the U.S. consulate earlier this month.

Mexican marijuana production is soaring, according to a report issued Thursday by the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center.

Estimated Mexican marijuana production climbed to 21,500 metric tons in 2008 from 10,100 metric tons in 2005, the report said, adding that as the military has turned its attention from illicit crop eradication to combating violence from the cartels, marijuana eradication efforts have fallen by nearly half.

Even advocates of the decriminalization of marijuana in the U.S. said they empathize with Mexican leaders, who are deploying troops in a fierce battle with well-armed drug cartels at the urging of Washington.

"They are caught in the middle of realities of U.S. consumer demands and American political intransigence," said Stephen Gutwillig, the California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group for alternatives to the drug war.

Gutwillig said he thinks the trend toward allowing medical marijuana in U.S. states, and even the outright decriminalization of marijuana, would eventually weaken the Mexican drug cartels.

"Any sort of authorized regulated market for marijuana in the United States cannot be good for the bottom line of criminal cartels," Gutwillig said.

ON THE WEB

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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