September 23rd, 2011
02:30 PM ET

Does Mexico's president want to legalize marijuana?

By , GlobalPost

Flanked between Mexican and U.S. flags, President Felipe Calderon was unleashing his familiar tirade against drug gangs in a speech in New York on Monday. The cartels are carrying out mass murder, he said. They are a regional threat. And then he dropped his bombshell. If the United States can’t cut demand for drugs, Calderon said, it must look for alternative solutions.

“We are living in the same building. And our neighbor is the largest consumer of drugs in the world. And everybody wants to sell him drugs through our doors and our windows,” the Mexican president said. “If the consumption of drugs cannot be limited, then decision-makers must seek more solutions — including market alternatives — in order to reduce the astronomical earnings of criminal organizations.”

Related: Re-thinking the drug war

The comment unleashed shockwaves on both sides of the Rio Grande. Here was a man who has waged the biggest campaign against drug gangs in Mexico’s history — and who U.S. President Barack Obama even called Mexico’s Elliot Ness — saying that the U.S. should consider legalizing drugs.

Or is Calderon really saying that?

The speech was actually the second time in less a month that the Mexican president had used his phrase “market alternatives.”

The first came in a televised speech in Mexico on Aug. 26, the day after gangsters burned down a casino in Monterrey, killing 52 apparently innocent customers and croupiers.

More: Other victims of the violence

“If [Americans] are determined and resigned to consume drugs, then they should seek market alternatives in order to cancel the criminals’ stratospheric profits,” he said then.

Following that, pundits speculated that the anguish of the casino deaths may have made Calderon use a clumsy turn of phrase. But the second time was a clear confirmation that he was deliberately putting forward a new idea.

Press officers at Mexico’s presidential palace said they could not comment on the meaning of Calderon’s words. But pundits are all convinced that “market alternatives” is Calderon-speak for the dreaded "L-word” — legalization.

“Everyone understands what Calderon is now saying. But he is using the softer phrasing to cause a little less controversy,” said Jorge Chabat, one of Mexico’s most prominent political commentators.

The question remains as to why at this stage in his presidency, Calderon has shifted on such a central policy.

After Calderon was sworn into office in December 2006, the war on drugs quickly became the centerpiece of his administration. He sent soldiers and federal police to burn down crops, seize labs and extradite kingpins to the United States.

While praising the soldiers as heroes, Calderon railed against the “evil” of drugs and said the legalization could lead to many young people suffering.

But after more than 40,000 drug related murders since then, Calderon has apparently grown weary of a war with no end.

“Mexican presidents learn from the reality of power that the war on drugs doesn’t work,” Chabat, the analyst, said. “He hasn’t seen clear results, and this seems to have made him genuinely change his opinion.”

The last two Mexican presidents, Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox, also converted to the cause of drug-policy reform on leaving office.

“We have to take all the production chain out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of producers,” Fox told GlobalPost in a recent interview. “So there are farmers that produce marijuana and manufacturers that process it and distributors that distribute it and shops that sell it.”

Calderon has just come to the same conclusion a little earlier, Chabat said.

It remains to be seen what effect Calderon’s new rhetoric could have on Washington’s policy.

Drug-policy reformists in the United States have already heralded Calderon’s statements, saying they will help their cause.

“It is incredibly useful,” said Tom Angell, spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “If President Obama sees his major foreign partner in the war on drugs say that maybe we ought to stop it, then Obama may be forced to address this in a meaningful way.”

Mexican cartels are believed to make $30 billion every year selling marijuana, crystal meth, heroin and cocaine to American consumers.

Activists argue a first step would be the legalization of marijuana, which would take a huge cash crop away from Mexican cartels.

A referendum to legalize marijuana will be held in Colorado in 2012, with activists also looking at possible referendums in California and Washington states.

However, Obama has shown little sign of being receptive to these activists. His drug tsar, Gil Kerlikowske, has taken a hardline against any such reform, while federal agents have busted medical marijuana farms in places such as California, where medical cannabis is legal under state law.

Calderon himself will step down from power in December 2012 and is not allowed by law to stand for re-election.

But once the door has been opened to a Mexican president questioning the war on drugs, others could follow.

“We’ve seen a wave of former presidents in Latin America opposing the war on drugs. Now this could be a time of standing presidents becoming emboldened and opposing it,” Angell said. “And this could mean a sea change in policy."

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Topics: Drugs • United States

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Derp

    Way to go Calderon. The puppet master's hand is still lodged up your ass, but I see you're trying your damndest to get it out. I pray you will be successful.

    September 23, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  2. Ugly American

    So Calderon really does mean it? Good! Obama knows that legalization of marijuana is one thing the American people really, really want. Pushing for legalization in this country might even save his presidency.
    God knows kissing up to the Banksters and Republicans has not helped him.
    Obama called Calderon "Mexico's Elliot Ness"? I wonder if he is aware that Ness favored legalization of alcohol during prohibition? He probably doesn't. He doesn't read much history beyond the life of Abraham Lincoln and avoids the history of the Depression deliberately and obviously.
    Legalizing marijuana would be a great way to increase tax revenue and stopping the US Drug War would save billion of dollars a year, as well as emptying our prisons of a bunch of non-violent stoners.

    September 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  3. No one cares about Mexico

    Calderon opened pandora's box when he started fighting the cartels.

    What Calderon failed to realize is that no one in America cares that close to 50,000 Mexicans have been killed. Heck, it could be 7 million killed in gas chambers and America wouldn't care.

    President Obama and the Democrats love to help people in Libya and the rest of the Middle East but they do not care about Latin Americans suffering. They do not care that civil wars could soon break out in Mexico and Guatemala over the drug trade. 25 million Mexican-Americans do not care about the suffering back in the land of their ancestors either. The US media does not care. The Catholic Church does not care.

    No one in the world cares that Mexico has become a country of lawless anarchy where human life has no special value. If people cared, we would hear more about it. 80 white kids are killed in Norway and CNN, NY Times and all the US television news programs talk about it for 2 weeks. 100,000 Mexicans are kidnapped for ransom and killed and no one says a word.

    No one cares about you, Mexico. Stop this talk about legalization and do not ask the Americans or the rest of the world to burden their conscience thinking about your death and mayhem. You are alone in your suffering.

    September 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • F U

      F U b!tch

      September 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Reply
      • Ugly American

        You represent Mexico and the general intelligence level of it's people so well!
        And you give credence to what she said by your lack of an intelligent rebuttal and reliance on simple derogatory insults.
        Maybe that is why nobody really cares.

        September 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
      • Alejandro

        Obviously the comment made by "No one cares about Mexico" strikes a sensitive chord in most of us living the situation on the ground in Mexico, something which most people abroad can not understand. When 50,000 people in a foreign country die, it's like something taken from a movie, might as well not even be real. But when you live in a city where 40 drug related murders happen each day (plus kidnappings and other drug related violence), and you and your family are constantly part of the collateral damage, then its a different story. Point aside, you can not take a comment from one individual, and say it represents the majority of anything. Type on youtube "American's are stupid", and see what you find; still, its idiotic to assert that's how most or all Americans are. United State will not change it's policy because it cares for Mexican lives, but hopefully it will do it eventually because violence will cross the border, and the american people realize that the power harnessed by a group of criminals making 30 billion or more a year its too dangerous to bare, even for a super power. Meanwhile too many innocent Mexicans will have to pay the price, and that is certainly not asking for sympathy, it's just stating a sad fact. Just know that will not stand idle indefinitely, we are getting weary and tired and sooner rather than later we will start coming up with solutions to alleviate our situation despite of US interest.

        October 11, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  4. great idea

    Once it becomes legal, it removes much of the power and money from the cartels. To make it legal will not have the catastrophic effects that the opponents think it will, as proven by Canada's allowed use for medicinal purpose as well as California's. Los Angeles has the most dispensaries per capita than any other city in the nation, yet has seen declining crime rates, with crime rates closest to dispensaries lower than areas not close to dispensaries. I hope Calderon does what is best for his country and ignores Hillary who will undoubtedly make a trip to Mexico to talk him out of it with buckets of money.

    September 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  5. fernace

    Yes, legalize weed & be done with it! No more of this wishy-washy "medical marijuana" nonsense! Just make it into a legal product like alcohol, that can be purchased in any liquor store, must be 21 to smoke & DUI if caught smoking & driving! That's the wave of the future!!

    September 24, 2011 at 12:00 am | Reply
  6. Fred Flintstoned

    The War on Drugs including Marijuana Prohibition is the most destructive and dysfunctional social policy in America since Slavery. It is a giant SCAM and CON on the American people

    September 24, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  7. Klaus

    Please stop Mexican President Felipe Calderon, he is using logic and common sense to interpret the results of the drug war.

    We can't have that. America will continue it shameful hypocrisy until the end of days as far as the war on drugs is concerned.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      How is he using common sense? Fighting the supply of illegal substances has never worked, the cartels always recover

      September 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  8. Matt

    Of course he is, the cartels have broken them and they are not finished yet, now they have to break the US. It is as it always was about cocaine. The Coca as a registered trademark like Colombian coffee. Strike while the iron is hot, while Bush order the Mexicans in during 2006, the economic downturn was the time, so this was always going to happen. These chaps have huge investments and the best financial advisers they know when a recession is coming.

    Mexico is a mess, all different players some want to destroy the US, foreign actors, but the cartels are about money, that is their focus not some plot to destroy the US, others try to use the violence and Mexico to draw the US into an insurgency. I mean if they wanted to draw you in there. There would be a lot more violence on the US side of the border coming from the Mexican side like al-Qaida in the Sinai.

    But they know the by-product of Mexico falling apart is that the US will have to go for another nation building exercise like Iraq or Afghanistan. It will start out as a CT operation, but that as with Afghanistan will not bring stability to Mexico.

    They will influence the elections, I mean how can security be provided, they will kill and threaten, fraud etc. That leaves the US will another major problem. So yes it is true that the US cannot fight another 8 year insurgency or spend another 3 trillion.

    But the CIA has an ace up it sleeve, when done correctly it takes 18 months to suppress an insurgency, and it takes around 3 years to build up an indigenous security force of the 5 year plan, the three years of the five years is spent treading water, waiting for the force structure to come online to saturate the country.

    So the money for deportations per capita is already allocated, so instead on the US side of the border they are trained into an indigenous security force, as was done with Cuban's for the Bay of Pigs. Between JSOC CIA SAD and 20 to 30 thousand marines and an indigenous security force of 250,000 to 300,000 built on the US side of the border (3 years), it would take (18 months) to suppress the insurgency, not 5 years, nor 8 years and not 2 trillion dollars. We already have the money allocated for basic training, from the deportations monies per capita.

    September 25, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  9. bourneblogger

    Legalizing pot solves many issues... The violence in Mexico is difficult to read sometimes... Bodies hanging from bridges in the streets?... Women and children mutilated?... Fathers shot in front of their children?... Dismemberment and be-headings?... Pot is getting into our country anyways so we might as well capitalize on it... This is no different than when we legalized alcohol when Americans needed to get rich again after the Stock Market Crash of 1929... It would infuse jobs into our desperate economy in areas like marketing, design, retail, import, export, packaging, farming and tourism, just to name a few... Not to mention, it would keep nominal criminals out of prisons, leaving more room for hardened criminals... It will also put more cops back on patrol to deal with real problems... Stoners are kittens when they're stoned and it's just not worth all that we're losing... The taxation on pot sales would yield an avg of $15B/state/year... That's a lot of money we're giving up b/c we won't let some people smoke a plant... What's the worst thing that could happen in your neighborhood if we legalized pot – All the Mountain Dew and Cheetoh's are constantly sold out at Wal-Mart?...

    September 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  10. Jeff

    What are other possible market alternatives to reducing demand? What does that even mean in this context?

    September 26, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  11. tommas

    History books in the future will look at this era of cannabis prohibition with the same way we look at alcohol prohibition. Instead of tommy guns and gangsters in Chicago it will be AKs and cartels with the same conclusions: what were we thinking???

    September 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  12. Andrew

    I believe they made a typo. the Mexican drug cartel makes 30 Billion dollars in a MONTH. They make anywhere from 200-250 Billion dollars per year. America consumes 50% of the worlds Cocaine, 90% of which is controlled by the Cartel, we consume 40% of the worlds Heroin, and we consume 40% of the world's Marijuana. No one even comes close to the US in terms of "illicit" drug consumption.

    The Illegal drug trade is the 3rd largest industry in the world with an estimated worth of about 600 Billion US Dollars per year, or 1% of the worlds GDP, and growing. Petroleum and Arms Sales are the only two larger industries. Marijuana is worth about 150 Billion of that, Cocaine is worth 200 billion of that, and Heroin is also worth about 200 Billion of that.

    Trying to downplay how much money the cartel brings in...CNN you are SOOOO part of the problem in this country. You are part of the Establishment and that's why I don't like you. Al Jazeera is way more reliable than you, especially their opinion columns, which are written by American University professors at places like UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC-Davis, Harvard, Penn, Georgetown, etc. you know, people who actually know what their talking about, not to mention that their journalist actually report on stories without adding twists to them, something you stopped doing a long time ago and may have never known how to do.

    Nice try tho.

    October 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  13. Marijobama

    It sounds like his advisors are beginning to talk some sense into Calderone's head, but until we figure out how to suppress the power of the special interests that want to keep it illegal, our government will keep it illegal here AND in Mexico.

    October 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  14. The time for change is now

    Until legalization is made a reality, there is too much money on both sides to lose. Law enforcement and criminals both stand to lose: in profits and the amounts earmarked for fighting this "war on drugs". Do you think it stops there? What about the huge sums going into drug testing labs, courts and rehabs for the kid that got caught with a joint. Of course they will point to the "rise" in illegal drug use because that kid is going to take probation over jail's a scam and only the people with a unified voice will make a difference. Despite the rise in popular opinion, the supreme court recently decided 8-1 it's OK for law enforcement to bust down doors because of marijuana odors...pathetic!

    October 9, 2011 at 8:55 am | Reply
  15. redone

    Until the guy and girl next door seek legal and ethical ways and means to releive thier bordem, there is no end to this. I just wish I could afford a house so I could move away from them.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply

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