Pubdate: Tue, 14 Apr 2009
Source: Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)
Copyright: 2009 Arizona Daily Star
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


MEXICO CITY - Mexico's Congress opened a three-day debate Monday on
the merits of legalizing marijuana for personal use, a policy backed
by three former Latin American presidents who warned that a crackdown
on drug cartels is not working.

Although President Felipe Calderon has opposed the idea, the
unprecedented forum shows legalizing marijuana is gaining support in
Mexico amid brutal drug violence.

Such a measure would be sure to strain relations with the United
States at a time when the two countries are stepping up cooperation in
the fight against drug trafficking. The congressional debate - open to
academics, experts and government officials - ends a day before
President Obama arrives in Mexico for talks on the drug war.

Proponents had a boost in February when three former presidents -
Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando
Cardoso of Brazil - urged Latin American countries to consider
legalizing the drug to undermine a major source of income for cartels.

The congressional discussion takes on a subject "that had been taboo"
in our country, said opposition lawmaker Javier Gonzalez, adding that
his Democratic Revolution Party supports legalizing personal marijuana

"What we don't want is to criminalize youths for consuming or
possessing marijuana," he said.

Calderon, whose six-year terms ends in 2012, has proposed legislation
that would offer users treatment instead of jail time but stop short
of legalizing or decriminalizing possession.

In 2006, Mexico backed off a law that would have abolished prison
sentences for drug possession in small amounts after the U.S. protested.

"It's clear that a totally prohibitive policy has not been a solution
for all ills," said Interior Department official Blanca Heredia.

"At the same time, it's illusory to imagine that complete legalization
of marijuana would be a panacea."

Lawmakers are not discussing a specific proposal, and the debate is
not expected to result in concrete action. Lawmakers have said they
want to hear various viewpoints before they begin considering proposed
bills for legalizing marijuana.
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