Mexico has paid all it has to pay in the war on drugs: 60,000 dead in the last six years. But the drugs keep flowing north over the dead bodies. Few countries have better credentials than Mexico in terms of collaboration in this absurd war, invented for electoral reasons about 1970, so that the Republican Party and its candidate Richard Nixon could counter the Democrats' social program with a rightist one built around law and order and repression of vice. Nixon won the election, and the war on drugs became government policy.
The first nation obligatorily invited to play a role was Mexico after a border closure called Operation Interception in 1969. Since then every Mexican government has played an obligatory guest role in all the strategies designed by Washington to stop the flow of drugs into the US market. Mexico has an impressive record in terms of arrests of capos, crop eradication, confiscation and burning of shipments, and punishment of official accomplices.
The government of Felipe Calderón (2006-12) sharply stepped up Mexican cooperation in the war waged by Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush I and II, and Obama. Never was so much money spent, forces mobilized, hard decisions made, men arrested, cargos seized or corrupt police brought to justice as in these years. Nor were there ever so many deaths; nor had Mexico's image ever been so bloody.
No one can say that Mexico has not been ready to pay the cost of the prohibitionist consensus that now reigns throughout the world. No one can deny that Mexico has failed. The Mexican case is an extreme version of what has happened throughout the world. Nixon's war was adopted by successive governments, and placed on the worldwide prohibitionist agenda centered on the UN. The failure, too, is worldwide: Colombia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, a long litany of others and, of course, the United States - all have failed.
No one can say that Mexico has not been ready to pay the cost of the prohibitionist consensus that now reigns throughout the world. No one can deny that Mexico has failed"
Many Latin American leaders, present and past, have begun to reconsider their commitment to prohibition. These include Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ricardo Lagos of Chile. No one is unaware of the difficulties involved. But times are changing, and the anti-prohibitionist outlook is beginning to enlist voices that are hard to ignore. In Mexico particularly, it starts from the conviction that at least marijuana should undergo a process of legalization and regulation similar to that which is beginning to happen within the United States - where, by now, 19 states have legalized it in varying degrees, unrestricted recreational use being so far limited to Colorado and Washington states.
In Mexico a group, headed by well-known public figures, is proposing the legalization of marijuana in the federal district of Mexico City. The objective is a district law allowing for possession of a reasonable quantity of marijuana without being liable to arrest as a dealer, the present limit being only five grams. And why only marijuana, and why only in the capital?
Because the capital region is more progressive and open, and has already passed liberal legislation on other issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Because available data indicate that marijuana is a drug whose toxic effects and consequences are smaller than those of permitted drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Because the damage marijuana smoker can do to himself by smoking is much smaller than the social damage done by repressing it - in terms of prison population, for example. Because a high percentage, 30 or 40 percent, of the organized drug trade's income proceeds from marijuana. Because, due to the pressure of the United States and Mexico's commitment to the world prohibitionist consensus, Mexico is now prosecuting behavior that is already permitted, and is even a prosperous business, in some US states.
What would the national Mexican government do if one of its principal local governments legalized what is prohibited by federal legislation? Probably look the other way, like Obama, who has "bigger fish to fry."
An unrequested clarification: the authors of this article are not potheads.
Jorge Castañeda is a political analyst and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Héctor Aguilar Camín is a journalist and writer.