Pubdate: Fri, 09 Nov 2012
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2012 The Washington Post Company
Author: William Booth
Page: A14


Legalization Alters 'Rules of the Game'

Review of Washington-Backed Drug War Is Likely

MEXICO CITY - The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington state
to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has left Mexican
President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto and his team scrambling to
reformulate their antidrug strategies in light of what one senior aide
said was a referendum that "changes the rules of the game."

It is too early to know what Mexico's response to the successful
ballot measures will be, but a top aide said Pena Nieto and members of
his incoming administration will discuss the issue with President
Obama and congressional leaders in Washington this month. The
legalization votes, however, are expected to spark a broad debate in
Mexico about the direction and costs of the U.S.-backed drug war here.

Mexico spends billions of dollars each year confronting violent
trafficking organizations that threaten the security of the country
but whose main market is the United States, the largest consumer of
drugs in the world.

With Washington's urging and support, Mexican soldiers roam the
mountains burning clandestine plantations filled with marijuana
destined for the United States. Mexico's police and military last year
seized almost as much marijuana as did U.S. agents working the
Southwest border region.

About 60,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, and
tens of thousands have been arrested and incarcerated. The drug
violence and the state response to narcotics trafficking and organized
crime have consumed the administration of outgoing President Felipe

"The legalization of marijuana forces us to think very hard about our
strategy to combat criminal organizations, mainly because the largest
consumer in the world has liberalized its laws," said Manlio Fabio
Beltrones, leader of Pena Nieto's party in Mexico's Congress.

Pena Nieto's top adviser, Luis Videgaray, said Thursday that his boss
did not believe that legalization was the answer. But Videgaray said
Mexico's drug strategies must be reviewed in light of the legalization

"Obviously, we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico,
trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United
States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different
status," Videgaray told a radio station Wednesday.

Videgaray added that legalization "changes the rules of the game in
the relationship with the United States" in regards to antidrug efforts.

"I think more and more Mexicans will respond in a similar fashion, as
we ask ourselves why are Mexican troops up in the mountains of Sinaloa
and Guerrero and Durango looking for marijuana, and why are we
searching for tunnels, patrolling the borders, when once this product
reaches Colorado it becomes legal," said Jorge Castaneda, a former
foreign minister of Mexico and an advocate for ending what he calls an
"absurd war." Pena Nieto has pledged to work closely with the U.S.
government against powerful transnational crime organizations when he
takes office next month. But he has stressed that his main goal is not
to confront smugglers but to reduce the sensational violence and
rampant crime - such as extortion, kidnapping and theft - that have
soared in Mexico during Calderon's six years in office.

Jonathan Caulkins, an expert on the drug trade and a professor at
Carnegie Mellon University, said the beginning of marijuana
legalization in the United States could allow Pena Nieto to resist
U.S. pressure to maintain a hard line against smuggling groups.

Advocates for marijuana legalization in the United States and Mexico
have often argued that ending the prohibition on pot would deny
Mexican traffickers a key source of revenue. Analysts generally agree
that about half of all the marijuana consumed in the United States
comes from Mexico.

If all marijuana consumers in Colorado and Washington state buy the
drug legally, then revenue to Mexican drug cartels would probably
decrease. But not by much. U.S. experts who produced a landmark Rand
Corp. study in 2010 when California voters were considering the
legalization of recreational marijuana use (the measure did not pass)
concluded that Mexican cartels earn no more than $2 billion moving
marijuana across the Southwest border and that the groups derive 15 to
26 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales.

The study authors estimated that legal marijuana use in California, a
state that consumes about one-seventh of all the pot smoked in the
United States, would cost the cartels 2 to 4 percent of their revenue.
So losing consumers in states such as Washington and Colorado that
have a smaller population might not affect the cartel bottom line by

Whether the loss of some marijuana revenue will reduce killings in
Mexico is even more uncertain, as much of the worst violence is
attributed to crime rings that have branched out from drug smuggling
to human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, oil theft and DVD piracy.
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