It’s Not Just About the Stoners: Why Sectors in Mexico React Positively to U.S. Legalization of Marijuana

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a complement to our piece about how the U.S. media has overlooked parts of the pot debate, writer Carolina Drake shares her thoughts.

Drug legalization is not as stoner-centered as you think once we look at both sides of the supply and demand transaction, and consider that legalization in the US could help stop drug-related violence in the neighbor country.

Last week we had plenty of opinions about stoners.

New York Times columnist David Brooks argued that, in his experience, weed could get you killed and lower your IQ, while it might also lower the moral standards of a society. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus also mentioned in her piece how weed lowers your IQ and how younger people are more likely to smoke it if it’s legal. There were also opinions in favor of legalization centered on the economic benefits that taxing weed would bring to improve public services and boost the economy.

But the opinions and debates have stayed inside of the United States, and little was said about who supplies the United States with drugs, and how legalizing cannabis here might lessen the amount of illegal money flow feeding underground drug traffic in Mexico.

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One of the pros related to the pot debate is that legalizing drugs can help stop violence in our neighboring country. The fight against drug cartels has eluded outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon, claiming the lives of more than 60,000 people during Calderon’s six year term. Since Enrique Peña Nieto became president last year, 17,000 have been killed due to drug violence. In this context, a broader analysis is needed, one that looks not only at the demand side but also focuses on what goes on in the territory of those who supply the drugs.

LatinoRebels.com released a group editorial on Saturday suggesting we are missing a critical part in this debate given that “everyone seems to be focusing on the ‘demand’ aspect while very little is being said about the ‘supply.'” Why is the other side so important?

Starting from an ethical perspective, those who smoke weed in the U.S. might benefit from knowing where their supply comes from, and what it supports. In July of 2012, Greg Campbell for New Republic traced parallels between blood diamonds and Mexican marijuana arguing:

Both are high-demand commodities controlled by vicious gangs who seek maximum profits regardless of the human cost. Both are traded through well-established black markets immune to governmental schemes to eradicate them. Violence-fueled greed threatens the very fabric of the countries where they’re produced. But there was one striking difference. Unlike the consumers of blood diamonds, who were once kept in the dark about the brutal origins of their luxury goods, pot smokers can’t feign the same ignorance about the vicious gangs who grow and sell their weed. Considering the tonnage of marijuana smuggled annually into the country from Mexico, it’s certain that millions of American smokers are getting high on blood-tainted pot.

So, while Brooks and Marcus focus on the loss of IQ and low moral standards that legalizing weed might promote in U.S. society, Campbell’s piece reminds us of the other side: those who smoke weed illegally bare the ethical consequences of not knowing if they are smoking blood tainted pot smuggled from Mexico. In this sense, legalizing weed in parts of the U.S. may positively impact Mexico by lessening the drug demand, which would logically lead to a decrease in illegal drug smuggling.

From the U.S. side, CBS News did a piece a few months ago about a 2013 study concluding that “proposals to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington could cut Mexican drug cartels’ earnings from traffic to the U.S. by as much as 30 percent.”

In Mexico, the amounts of deaths have motivated public figures and intellectuals to argue for legalization, not to support stoner habits, but precisely to stop the drug-related violence. Mexican poet Javier Sicilia organized a caravan for peace which, during the months of august and September of 2012 traveled through the United States with the objective of reaching Washington and asking president Obama to assume responsibilities in the fight against drug traffic taking place in Mexico, and for a change in the United States’ drug policies.

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Mexican philosopher Sayak Valencia, who traces parallels between capitalism and the violence generated from a narco-culture sponsored by the external drug demand, argues in her book”Capitalismo Gore” (Gore Capitalism) that a policy of zero tolerance towards drugs is inadequate, considering the amount of people doing drugs. Valencia writes (my translation):

Economists such as Lev Timofeev have spoken about the possibilities and benefits that legalizing drugs would bring to countries where its consumption supposes elevated costs given that this would provoke a collapse of the prizes imposed by the black market, overriding the hierarchy of narcotraffic and drug cartels.” (p. 62 CG).

To finish with an example of weed legalization in Latin America, last month, Uruguay’s president José Mujica expressed in an interview with Jorge Ramos for El Diario that those who don’t support legalization fear narcotourism “but we fear the existence of narcotrafficking more. Narcotrafficking is worse than drugs. Drugs, we can control.” (my translation).

Evidently, the issue is not as stoner-centered as one may think. What Uruguay’s president suggested is that the benefits of preventing drug-related violence might override the lesser consequences of stoner culture and its irresponsible behaviors. And, overall, we can regulate drugs, but we cannot regulate narcotrafficking if it remains underground. So before giving into the pro and con debates, it would help to have a wider analysis from both sides of the border.

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Carolina Drake is an Argentine writer who loves Mexico and tweets here: @CarolinaADrake

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