Mexico City Leaders Aim to Fight Cartel Violence By Legalizing Pot

Decriminalization efforts aim to take profits and power away from cartels.

Photo Credit: Vladimir Gerasimov / Shutterstock.com

Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities with more than 8 million residents. For years it has been overrun by drug cartels, which have transformed the nation as a whole into a center of brutality. (In Mexico, an estimated more than 60,000 people have been killed in just six years.)

A large portion of the funding for those cartels comes from the immense, underground marijuana industry they operate. In an effort to remove money and power from the cartels, some political leaders in Mexico's capital announced plans this month to draft proposals to  legalize and regulate marijuana. 

At the end of this month, members of the Mexico City city assembly will submit proposed bills to establish legal cannabis clubs, and allow individuals to possess small amounts of marijuana. As Time magazine reported on October 14., Mexico City’s new mayor Miguel Mancera voiced support for marijuana policy reform in the past, and his support for the proposed new bills is anticipated.  

A Mexican federal law decriminalized the possession of about a sixth of an ounce of marijuana in 2009, but police continue to arrest people in possession of little over the specified amount, Mexican assemblyman Vidal Llerenas told Time. Llerenas is considering legislation that would make posession of one ounce of marijuana an issue not for prosecuters, but for "'dissuasion committees,' which would advise people to go to treatment if caught repeatedly."

The proposa to add cannais clubs to the city, Time reports, "aims to circumvent federal laws against selling marijuana as members would be simply paying to grow for their own use. Lawmakers are considering the idea of associations with up to 100 members, who would pay a subscription and receive about 50 g of marijuana per month. The Mexican drug-policy-reform group Cupihd, which has done extensive research into the issue, believes such clubs could take up 70% of the Mexico City marijuana market, which it estimates is now worth about $30 million a year." 

Retired police major Neill Franklin, executive director of the U.S.-based Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, noted this week that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the drug war in Mexico in the last seven years.

“Were Mexico City to legalize and regulate marijuana, taking it out of the hands of violent cartels and into those of legitimate businesses, it would be a tremendous boon to public safety in the city and a sign to the rest of the world that legalizing marijuana is a smart, workable solution to the evils of the drug war,” he said.

Several groups will likely oppose the marijuana legalization proposals, including conservative parent groups and the Catholic Church. 

Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Mexico City told Time, "It is irresponsible to say that marijuana is not harmful. We need to hear the voices of the families of addicts in this debate."

Time notes that "the same groups are also robustly opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, but failed to stop them being legalized in the capital."

If the proposals pass successfully and become law, Mexico City will be among the few places in the world to legalize marijuana, including Colorado and Washington, which voted to legalize marijuana last November, and Uruguay, where a legalization bill is expected to pass the senate this month.

However, supporters of legalization are many. In the last year alone politicians as well as celebrities have been speaking up for legalization. In May a large pro-marijuana march took place in Mexico City, and a three-day forum on drug policy was held there in September. 

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. 

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