Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mexico's incoming PRI government pays little attention to marijuana legalization efforts in U.S.

MGRR News Analysis -
U.S. ambiguity does nothing to instill confidence in its exhausted drug war partner

Guadalajara -
No public official in Mexico really believes the United State is going to legalize marijuana anytime soon, even the possession of very small quantities for personal use. So they're paying scant attention here to this week's initiatives in Colorado and Washington states which purport to do exactly that. They're paying even less attention to all the mass media ballyhoo north of the border, erroneously suggesting that weed is now lawful in both of those jurisdictions. Plainly it's not, and there is no reason to believe the rules are going to change in the short term (CNN's, and others', very misleading analyses notwithstanding).

Let's get the legal basics down first. The United States of America is a federal republic of 50 partially sovereign states, with a central government to which ultimate authority is reserved on some matters (e.g., national defense, foreign relations, the printing and control of currency, etc.) Within each state, multiple local entities - cities, counties and townships - enjoy some autonomy, albeit very limited.

Criminal jurisdiction in the U.S. is divided. If you kill your next door neighbor during a heated poker game, you'll be tried in a state court. If you kill an I.R.S. agent who stops by your place of business asking for tax returns, or a fellow camper in a national park whose late night carousing disturbs your slumber, you'll find yourself before a federal judge and jury. If you get pulled over for DUI, you could end up in a city, county or state criminal court, but not in a federal one (unless you were driving on U.S. property, and even then the government would likely "yield jurisdiction" to local prosecutors).

A corollary legal principle is that cities and counties in the United States cannot make laws which are contrary to those of the state wherein they're located. Murder is illegal in Missouri. If St. Louis boldly passes a city ordinance declaring that homicide is now lawful within its boundaries, the ordinance is not worth the paper it's printed on. Neither are the Colorado and Washington "legalization" initiatives.

No state in the United States can legalize marijuana of its own accord. Why? Because the United States Congress has criminalized it. Possession of any amount of marijuana (even a single joint) is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000 for the first offense. The second offense carries a mandatory 15 day sentence, and up to two years in prison. A third offense is subject to a 90 day to three year prison term coupled with a $5,000 fine. Trafficking in marijuana, or possession with intent to sell or distribute weed, may be punished even more severely.

None of this, of course, is to suggest that federal authorities are on the prowl for pot smokers on the street corner. It just means that voters in Colorado, Washington and similar minded jurisdictions are powerless to undo the collective will of their federal representatives in Washington (except in the old fashioned way: at the ballot box). All of the current chatter about how the U.S. is ready to go green (as in the leafy kind) is highly distorted and very much an overstatement. It's not about to happen.

Mexico understands this. The secretary of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which will take control of the federal government in just over three weeks, said today that discussion of the possible legalization of marijuana won't be on president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto's agenda when he's sworn in on Dec. 1. And in polite but unmistakable language, she urged the U.S., and particularly the Obama administration, to take a clear stand on "this delicate matter." No one can fault Mexico for demanding a cure for America's chronic national schizophrenia on the issue. This country has lost 60,000 people or more in a 71 month old drug war. As outgoing president Felipe Calderón has quite publicly stated several times, Mexicans must contend with living next door to the biggest drug addict in the world.

When Calderón told the United Nations General Assembly six weeks ago that "drug users are killing thousands of young people in the developing nations," he was speaking from the heart, and repeating what he's said on many occasions since he took office in December 2006. His additional comment suggesting that if the U.S. doesn't have the resolve to get drug usage under control then it may have to consider "market regulation" - a buzzword for legalization - was intended for shock value and the morning papers. He's done that before. But both Calderón and his successor recognize, just as the Washington Post did today, that Mexico's drug cartels would barely feel legalization of marijuana in the United States. That fairy tale still lures confused followers north of the border, but far fewer here.

A survey shows 79% of Mexicans are opposed to marijuana legalization in this country, and believe it would lead to increased narco violence.

Nov. 10 - Dante Haro Reyes, a public policy expert at the University of Guadalajara, has concluded that legalization of marijuana in the United States could be disastrous for Mexico, with an increase, not a decrease, in levels of violence, as organized crime groups wage war to monopolize drug sales.

Nov. 15 - An example of the massive confusion promoted by last week's marijuana initiatives: A PRD deputy in Mexico's Cámara de Diputados (house of representatives) introduced a bill today to legalize marijuana in this country. His main argument was, "it's already legal in U.S. states like Colorado and Washington." The bill will go nowhere. Legalization does not enjoy widespread support in the nation's three major political parties.

Nov. 15 - The Secretary of Government is Mexico's most powerful cabinet official. The incumbent is Alejandro Poire, who was appointed by Calderón, but he'll leave office in a few days when the new Peña Nieto administration takes over. In his last appearance today before the Cámara de Diputados, Poire told legislators that drug legalization would not eliminate or even diminish narcotics trafficking violence in this country. And he pointed out once again the obvious, that the government didn't cause the violence of the last six years. "Narco violence is due to the unchecked expansion of drug cartels for decades, during which time they transformed themselves into powerful criminal organizations, with influence in federal, state and local governments, while nobody did anything about it." His analysis is 100% accurate, although one that many have chosen to ignore, especially in the United States.

Nov. 17 - At a European summit, president Calderón roundly condemned efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the United States. He said that at least $20 billion dollars enter Mexico every year as the result of American drug demand, and "in the face of that mountain of money, the people of Mexico are struggling to confront" organized crime and narcotics trafficking.

Nov. 18 - "Mexico would have already won the drug war, but for the insatiable demand by American and European customers, and the huge sums of money they put into the hands of the cartels every year" - Felipe Calderón at the Iberoamérica summit in Spain.

Nov. 27 - Enrique Peña Nieto tells Time magazine that he's opposed to marijuana legalization.

Nov. 27 - The United Nations has unanimously approved president Felipe Calderon's proposal for a special session of the General Assembly to deal with drugs and world wide narcotics trafficking, and to review strategies for confronting both. Some 95 nations co-sponsored the measure, including the United States. The session won't be held until 2016, but preparations will begin next year. The last U.N. drug summit was in 1998.

Nov. 29 - In a final press conference Mexico's outgoing foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, noted that unilateral efforts to legalize drugs in some jurisdictions conflict with many international conventions, which require member nations to penalize the use of and traffic in narcotics. Without mentioning the Colorado or Washington initiatives by name, Espinosa said her country was open only to a "serious discussion and analysis" of the issues, while not outright supporting the call for legalization. She said the debate would be "a long process," and added, "No one should confuse our willingness to discuss the topic with a belief that Mexico will eventually renounce its war on organized crime. Governments cannot evade their duty to fight crime." As one of his last official acts Felipe Calderón today named Espinosa an Ambassador Emeritus, in recognition of her 31 years with Mexico's Foreign Service.

Aug. 29 - U.S. will take no action against Colorado and Washington over marijuana legalization laws
Apr. 5 - For the first time, majority of Americans back legal pot
Mar. 15 - U.S. splits over marijuana, but Kansas says it's still illegal in Sunflower State
Jan. 19 - Dirty money washed in Mexico represents 3.6% of GDP

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Mexicans dominate marijuana growing in U.S. - including in national parks, forests
Vicente Fox urges legalization of all drugs in Mexico - and worldwide

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