Mexico: pressure mounts for drug legalization

A study released late last month by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, an elite think-tank based in Mexico City, asserted that proposals to legalize cannabis in Colorado, Washington and Oregon could cut Mexican drug cartels’ earnings from traffic to the US by as much as 30%. The study, entitled “If Our Neighbors Legalize,” drawing on previous research by the RAND Corporation, predicts that legalization in any US state would help drive down the price of high-quality domestic cannabis, undercutting the cheaper and less potent cartel imports. It calculated a loss of $1.425 billion to the cartels if Colorado legalized, $1.372 billion if Washington legalized, and $1.839 billion if Oregon voted yes. (AP, Nov. 1) In the Nov. 6 vote, initiatives calling for legalization of cannabis under regimes of state control were approved by voters in Colorado and Washington, but rejected in Oregon.

A second study issued last month by two other Mexican think-tanks, the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) and the Research Collective on Drugs and the Law (CEDD), found that in 2010 charges of simple possession accounted for nearly 80% of all drug-related investigations filed with the Prosecutor General of the Republic (PGR). Of all the rulings (convictions or acquittals) issued by Mexican judicial authorities in 2010 for drug-related crimes, 18,343—80.7%—were for a single crime, meaning that no other crime was committed apart from the drug offense for which the person was sentenced or absolved. The findings vindicate claims that those detained and prosecuted for drug-related offenses in Mexico are mainly consumers or small-scale dealers. In addition, the study found, sanctions for many drug crimes are disproportionate, and tend to be harsher than those for rape, possession of weapons legally reserved for the military, or armed robbery. (Open Society Foundations, Nov. 12; WOLA, Oct. 3)

In yet another revelation of official complicity with Mexico’s ultra-violent cartels, Acapulco Mayor Luis Walton Aburto announced on Nov. 2 that he will fire 500 of the city’s police officers after they failed a test used to weed out corrupt officers. The city currently has only 1,700 officers, and the 500 who failed the test will be fired in January. Aburto said he will be asking the federal government to send agents for support until the officers can be replaced. Acapulco, in the conflicted state of Guerrero, is one of Mexico’s top tourism destinations, and has a population of over 800,000.

The toll of drug-related violence—whether by the cartels or security forces—in Mexico since 2006 was estimated at 47,515 in January of this year. But critics accuse the government of low-balling the figure, which by now probably exceeds 50,000, pointing to a profound human rights crisis. (Jurist, Nov. 3; NYT, Jan. 11)