The New York Times, 10/17/2010
In two weeks, Californians will decide whether to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, in a vote that polls show could be close.
Now, for a change in the drug war, it is Mexico wondering about the possible spillover, this time of an idea. Will such a bold step by its neighbor to the north add momentum to a burgeoning movement here for broad drug legalization?
The backdrop is the drug war, which has left Americans worrying about many of the ills that spill over the border: kidnappings, murders and, of course, drugs themselves. At the same time, Mexicans chafe at the guns flowing in from the States, the nearly 30,000 people killed in drug-related violence here in the past four years and the American demand and consumption that largely sustain the drug trade.
Small steps toward legalization have already been taken on both sides of the border. California, where medical marijuana has been legal under state law since 1996, this month made the punishment for possessing small amounts of the drug the equivalent of a speeding ticket instead of a misdemeanor. Last year Mexicoremoved the penalty for possessing small quantities of a range of drugs, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana, though selling or producing them remain prohibited.
But the similarities pretty much end there. Even those here who are pushing for the legalization of drugs — and in some circles “hard drugs,” like cocaine and heroin — concede that any major change in Mexico would probably be years away, regardless of what happens in California.
For one thing, President Felipe Calderón, who has expressed frustration with the prospect of a “yes” vote in California as another sign of Americans’ failure to bring their drug consumption under control, has not budged from his staunch opposition to legalization.
Because a rising number of intellectuals and some members of the political elite — including his immediate predecessor, Vicente Fox, and ministers who served under him — are advocating legalization, Mr. Calderón has called for a debate on the subject.