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Marijuana Legalization in Two States Has Mexico, Costa Rica Questioning U.S. Role in Drug War


On Nov. 6, the country watched closely as voters legalized small amounts of marijuana for adults in Colorado and Washington. And now those votes are resonating south of the border.

This week, the president of Costa Rica said that increased demand for marijuana will impact Drug War-torn countries. And on Tuesday, Mexican president Felipe Calderon joined other leaders of Latin American countries to issue the strongest words yet.

The votes seriously reduce the United States’ “moral authority” to wage the War on Drugs, according to Calderon, who began the military-style offensive against the drug cartels shortly after taking office.

And while Calderon leaves office Dec. 1, this issue is far from done: His successor favors a discussion of legalization, and Calderon’s colleagues say they’ll pressure the United Nations to take up the issue of drug prohibition by 2015.

Calderon’s six years in Mexico City were defined by the Drug War. Shortly after taking office in 2006, he reacted to drug trafficking in his home state of Michoacan by sending in the troops. To sum things up very briefly, the situation escalated, and six years later, nearly 40,000 people have died. Meanwhile, people in the United States, in Mexico, and in every other country on Earth still use drugs.
But recently, there has been different reactions. Leaders of Latin American countries called for Vice President Joe Biden to consider drug legalization prior to his visit to Mexico in May (no chance, Biden said). On television in September, Calderon stressed the capitalist nature of the Drug War — without American demand, fewer Mexicans would die.

After Calderon met Tuesday with the leaders of Honduras, Belize, and Costa Rica, he told Mexican media that having a federal American government spend time and money on shutting down marijuana dealers in states that allow marijuana use is a bit curious. Specifically, it “weakens [America’s] moral authority” — “resta autoridad moral,” Calderon said.

At the very least, voter approval of legal marijuana means that drug policy needs to be fundamentally rethought, revisited, or otherwise changed. And while Calderon won’t be able to get around to that by the time he leaves office next month, the future is bright — at least for the possibility of continued dialogue on legalization.

Incoming president Enrique Peña Nieto has in the past said that Mexico should consider legalization. So there’s that. Then again, his Institutional Revolutionary Party has also been accused of having close, corrupt relationships with drug cartels. So there’s that, too.

In any case, the development to watch will be if the United Nations considers its Latin American members’ pleas to convene a special meeting and consider the future of drug prohibition.


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