Mexico could legalize marijuana within the next five years, stripping brutal drug cartels of a major source of income, former President Vicente Fox said on Friday.
Fox, who battled the powerful cartels while president between 2000 and 2006, has since become a staunch advocate of reforming Mexico’s drug laws, arguing that prohibition has helped create the criminal market that sustains the gangs.
Under his successor, Felipe Calderon, Mexico launched a military offensive to crush the cartels, but the violence spiraled instead, and more than 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related bloodletting since the start of 2007.
Legalization was the best way of ending the “butchery” of the drug gangs, Fox said as he hosted a conference in support of the measure in his home state of Guanajuato in central Mexico.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, is opposed to legalization, but he has said that the decision by the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado to legalize recreational marijuana use has given him a more open mind.
Asked by Reuters whether Mexico could legalize marijuana by the time Pena Nieto’s term ends in 2018, Fox said:
“I think it’s going to happen much sooner. Once California gets into this, Mexico is going to be obligated to speed up its decision process.”
Previous bills to legalize marijuana in Mexico have failed to move forward and a majority of Mexicans oppose such a move.
California, which borders Mexico, rejected a 2010 measure to legalize cannabis, though medical marijuana is legal.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about marijuana, so we’re breaking down 10 of the most persistent myths about the drug – and giving you the real facts instead. Is pot prohibition working? Can casual use lead to addiction? Read on to find out the answers to these and more questions.
Fact: In 2011, use of marijuana by teenagers hit a 30-year peak, with one out of every 15 high school students reporting they smoke most days, and for the first time U.S. teens reported smoking more pot than cigarettes. But: teenagers don’t smoke any more pot in states where medical marijuana is legal than in ones where it’s not. Legalization advocates argue that the best way to reduce use by minors is to legalize and regulate pot.
Fact: The Dutch have never formally legalized marijuana. They have an official policy, since 1976, of not enforcing existing laws against possession of small amounts or coffee shops, about 700 of them, selling small amounts. But growing, distributing and importing pot is still a crime in the Netherlands. While Portugal decriminalized all drugs, that is not the same thing as legalization. Acquisition, possession and use of pot are administrative offenses in Portugal, punishable by civil sanctions such as fines or community service.
Fact: About 750,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana offenses in the U.S. There’s a lot of variation across states in what happens next. Not all arrests lead to prosecutions, and relatively few people prosecuted and convicted of simple possession end up in jail. Most are fined or are placed into community supervision. About 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison have a current conviction involving marijuana, and about half of them are in for marijuana offenses alone; most of these were involved in distribution. Less than one percent are in for possession alone.
Fact: It’s true that marijuana smoke, like tobacco smoke, contains carcinogens. But even hardcore pot smokers typically consume much less pot than tobacco smokers do cigarettes, probably not enough to cause cancer. A 2006 UCLA study concluded that even heavy marijuana use does not lead to lung cancer. “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” said the study’s lead author. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” This and other studies suggest that pot can actually inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors. Finally, what risks there are involve smoking, and there are other ways to consume marijuana.
Fact: The rate of pot use is higher among offenders than nonoffenders, but that definitely does not mean that pot causes criminal behavior. Another factor may be driving both results – or it could be that the causality goes the other way, and criminals are just more likely to use drugs. Furthermore, pot, unlike alcohol, doesn’t generally unleash aggression, so it’s much harder to link it to violent crime.
Fact: It’s possible to become dependent on marijuana, but this only happens in a minority of the already relatively small category of heavy users. Research suggests that about nine percent of marijuana users became clinically dependent at some point, compared to 15 percent of cocaine users and 24 percent of heroin users.
Plans are still underway to legalize recreational use of marijuana in California, and Tom Angell, a spokesman for Marijuana Majority, a U.S.-based group in favor of cannabis reform, said the state was very likely to vote again by 2016.
Fox’s view reflects a wider trend in Latin America where a number of former and current leaders, including Guatemalan President Otto Perez, are backing alternative approaches to U.S.-backed strategies of eradication and interdiction.
The 71-year-old Fox, whose election in 2000 for the conservative National Action Party (PAN) ended seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico, worked closely with the United States during his time in office to combat Mexican drug gangs.
But after leaving office, he became a fierce critic of the strategy pursued by his party colleague Calderon.
That angered many in the PAN, and Fox sparked more uproar during last year’s presidential election campaign by encouraging Mexicans to support Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico between 1929 and 2000.
Fox has been campaigning for marijuana legalization at a series of events this year in the United States and Mexico.
On Friday he was joined by former Microsoft executive James Shively, who plans to create the first U.S. national marijuana brand, as well as a wide range of activists and academics that included former Mexican health minister Julio Frenk.
By Gabriel Stargardter
SAN CRISTOBAL, Mexico