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

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service | Boulder Weekly

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.

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