Mexico’s President Joins Regional Debate on Marijuana Legalization

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Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has said he is willing to discuss legalizing marijuana, becoming the latest regional leader to question the drug prohibition paradigm and begin to confront the failures of interdiction-based policies.

In an interview with El Pais, Peña Nieto called anti-drug measures employed over the last 30 to 40 years “failed” policies, stating that they had led to increases in both consumption and production. He argued that with the recreational use of marijuana now legal in two US states — Colorado and Washington — it did not make sense for Mexico to have policies that differed from those of the “most important consumer market” for Mexican drugs. 

Although the president clarified that he personally opposed legalizing marijuana, he said he was open to debating the issue.  

Following Peña Nieto’s comments, an opposition party congressman who supported an initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Mexico told Reuters he expected the legalization trend to continue in the US, with the state of California likely to legalize in 2016. 

“Once California has permitted recreational marijuana, maintaining the ban in Mexico won’t be sustainable,” he said.

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Peña Nieto is the latest in a line of Latin American leaders to express discontent with the aggressive anti-drug policies promoted in the US-led “war on drugs,” and to call for a reassessment of prohibitionist policies.

This rhetorical offensive has been backed by moves to liberalize drug laws in several countries. In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to approve legislation regulating the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. Meanwhile, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Costa Rica have all decriminalized the possession of small amounts of this drug, and Jamaica plans to follow suit.

SEE ALSO: Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Mexico has also taken steps towards liberalizing drug policy. As of 2009, Mexicans can legally carry up to five grams of marijuana, 500 milligrams of cocaine, and miniscule quantities of heroin and methamphetamine (pdf). In February 2014, lawmakers in Mexico City also proposed legislation that would liberalize laws regarding marijuana use in the nation’s capital.

While the United States federal government has so far resisted such changes, as Peña Nieto commented, its case has been undermined by similar moves in several US states.

This is especially relevant for Mexico, which provides at least 40 percent of marijuana consumed in the United States, according to some estimates (pdf). Moves to decriminalize possession and use of marijuana and other drugs may be welcomed by drug reform campaigners, but unless both production and sales are regulated as well, profits from the trade will remain in the hands of criminal groups.

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