By John Stark
Voters’ decision to legalize marijuana in Washington and Colorado poses a challenge to U.S. foreign policy, as well as to federal marijuana prohibition laws, says Shannon O’Neil, senior fellwo for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Writing on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS blog on CNN, O’Neil says pot legalization would mean lost revenue for Mexican drug cartels, while sending mixed signals to the governments of Mexico, Colombia and other countries that have expressed increasing doubts about the wisdom of the longstanding “war on drugs” approach that the United States has urged on them for decades.
She also quotes research indicating that legalization will likely mean cheaper pot and an increase in pot use.
UPDATE: Here’s more on the Mexican view of the situation, from Diana Washington Valdez at the El Paso Times.
Here’s a quote from a community activist in Cd. Juarez:
Fernando Alvarez, a math consultant and community activist in Juárez, said he agrees that legalization would have an economic impact on Mexico. “Unfortunately, many people who are struggling with poverty turn to the drug trade for employment, as farmers, farm laborers, transporters and smugglers,” Alvarez said. “The Mexican government needs to invest in industries that will create new jobs for these people.” (emphasis added.)
In the past few weeks, I have seen some of my Facebook friends arguing that drug legalization will help to curb drug-fueled violence in Latin America. That would be a good thing–but I wonder if drugs are the sole cause of the horrific violence we see in Mexico, Colombia and other places. Pretext, yes. Cause? I wonder.
Colombia was a violent place long before the drug trade ballooned to its present proportions.
In Mexico, the beheadings and gun battles that have ripped up Ciudad Juarez and other cities might seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1970s, when I lived in El Paso, we loved to stroll over the bridge into Juarez for dinner and drinks or handcrafts in the markets. A lot fewer people are doing that today.
But I find it hard to believe that all the young men driving around with cuernos de chivo on their front seats are going to become law-abiding citizens if drug profits disappear.
In the second half of the 20th Century, Mexico seemed to be a far more orderly place than Colombia–but that has been true for less than 100 years.
One hundred and one years ago, a federal garrison at Ciudad Juarez was under seige by rebel forces, and stray bullets killed U.S. residents across the river. That battle was an early round in more than 10 years of violent upheaval that devastated Mexico.