Doubts in Mexico on impact of pot legalization on drug trafficking

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Mar 14 (efe-epa).- One of the main motivations for legalizing marijuana in Mexico is to combat illegal drug trafficking, but experts doubt the impact of such a move because cannabis is no longer the main income source for the local cartels.

The Chamber of Deputies this past week approved legislation regulating the recreational use of marijuana to comply with a Supreme Court ruling declaring its prohibition to be unconstitutional, and now the only thing remaining is for the Senate to vote on the measure.

During the debate on the bill last Wednesday, lawmaker Arturo Hernandez, with the governing National Renewal Movement (Morena) party, defended pot legalization claiming that the military offensive against drug trafficking launched by former President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) “caused more damage than the health effects” of the various illegal drugs.

In 2020, despite the Covid-19 quarantine, Mexico registered 34,515 murders, almost equal to the record of 34,582 set in 2019.

According to the Semaforo Delictivo non-governmental organization, 80 percent of the murders in Mexico each year are attributable to organized crime, clashes between drug gangs and criminal score settling.

Thus, the director of the organization, Santiago Roel, said he had no doubt that “legalizing marijuana and other drugs that have a black market in Mexico can contribute to reducing violence.”

“The only way to fight this violence is through economic principles and not with bullets,” Roel told EFE on Sunday, adding that legalizing pot would remove the lucrative market from the exclusive control of the cartels.

The new Federal Cannabis Legalization Law and the reforms to the General Health Law and the Penal Code that have been discussed in Congress foreshadow expanding the amount of pot that’s legal to possess to 28 grams (1 ounce), allowing people to grow up to eight pot plants in their homes and issuing permits to plant and sell cannabis for recreational use.

If approved, as seems likely, Mexico will join Uruguay, Canada and certain US states, all of which have legalized pot.

The NGO chief said that Mexico should have been a “pioneer” in the matter because of the violence its citizenry has suffered, and he called for opium poppy cultivation to be allowed for the same reason.

According to the RIA Institute, which researches Mexico’s drug policy, marijuana production in Mexico fluctuates between 15,000 and 27,000 tons per year and 72 percent of that production occurs in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango, a zone dominated by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Researcher Falko Ernst, with the Crisis Group organization, told EFE that legalizing drugs would be a positive step because it could empty the jails and prisons of consumers and small-scale sellers, but “marijuana for most of the cartels is no longer as relevant as other drugs.”

A Mexican Senate study calculated that in 2016, the country’s cartels received between $1 billion and $2 billion from pot sales in the US and would lose between 15 percent and 26 percent of their total income if Mexico legalized it.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2020 that Mexican cartels’s is already dropping due to the recent legalization of pot production in the US.

The agency said that Mexico is still the main source for illegal pot in the US, but that figure dropped from 287,000 kilograms in 2018 to 249,000 kg in 2019.

Meanwhile, the DEA said that “large quantities” of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamines and cocaine are being distributed by the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa Cartels in the US, and thus – Ernst said – the cartels’ “survival” does not depend on pot production and distribution.

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