|Mexican soldier caqrries marijuana plants seized near Aguililla,
To embattled government officials in Mexico, where armed soldiers patrol the streets and more than 500 people have died in cartel-related violence just this year, marijuana seems inextricably linked to the enrichment of death-dealing drug bosses who earn huge profits smuggling the illicit weed north.
“Marijuana arrives in the United States soaked with the blood of Tijuana residents,” said Mayor Jorge Ramos, whose police department lost 45 officers to “drug violence” in recent years, report Nick Miroff and William Booth of the Washington Post
But across the border in California, cannabis has a very different reputation — that of a healing herb. After the Obama Administration said it would not prioritize the prosecution of patients and providers who were abiding by state medical marijuana laws, about 100 dispensaries opened in San Diego alone in the past year.
The culture divide between the two cities shows a stark contrast between the bloody Drug War in Mexico and the medical acceptance of marijuana in California and 13 other states.
The Obama Administration continues to pressure Mexican President Felipe Calderon to “stay the course” in his expensive, futile, and bloody campaign against drug cartels — but Mexican leaders and intellectuals are increasingly asking questions about why their country should continue to attack marijuana smugglers and peasant pot farmers if the U.S. government is less than enthusiastic about enforcing federal marijuana laws in the most populous state.
The debate grows sharper as Californians get ready to vote in November on Proposition 19, a ballot initiative to legalize the recreational possession, cultivation, sale, and taxation of marijuana. Polls show a tight race, with voter turnout of the 18-35 demographic — which heavily supports legalization — seen as key.
Tired of horrific violence and a government shot through with the corruption brought by cartel riches, some of Mexico’s most prominent leaders are wondering aloud what effect pot legalization would have on their long-running battle against traffickers.
|Photo: Brian Kersey/UPI
|Former Mexican President Vicente Fox: “We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs”
Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, a rancher and free-market conservative, said last month
that marijuana should be legalized in his country.
“The sales could be taxed, with high taxes, as we do with tobacco, to be used to fight addiction and reduce consumption,” Fox said.
Marijuana smuggling and sales bring about $10 billion to Mexico’s cartels ever year. The drug mafias earn up to 60 percent of their profits from pot, according to U.S. estimates.
According to Fox, legalizing cannabis and other illegal drugs “will allow us to hit and break apart the economic structure that allows the drug mafias to generate huge profits — profits they use to corrupt and increase their power.”
Calderon, a center-right politician who has staked his presidency on his highly publicized fight against crime, hosted three days of nationally televised meetings last mnonth to discuss the pros and cons of legalization.
“It is worth asking if it still makes any sense to maintain our prohibition against marijuana in Mexico when the United States is taking gradual steps toward legalization,” said Jose Luis Astorga, one of Mexico’s top drug policy scholars. “Why are we spending resources on this?”
A commercial marijuana industry could produce “hundreds of millions of dollars annually” in new taxes, according to the nonpartisan voter guide written by the California secretary of state.
Prop 19 would allow city and county governments to adopt ordinances regulating and taxing commercial marijuana activities, including cultivation, processing, distribution, transportation and retail sales. For example, local governments could license businesses to sell marijuana and allow customers to use pot on the premises.
Oakland’s City Council has already approved
giant indoor marijuana farms as large as two football fields.
But nobody knows how legalization in California would affect Mexico, especially since importing marijuana into California from Mexico would remain illegal under federal law.
Legalization advocates in the United States argue that Prop 19 would actually hurt the drug cartels.
|Photo: Peter Holslin
|Best Buds Collective member Eugene Davidovich after the San Diego Police Department was forced to return his medical marijuana.
Given California’s agricultural expertise and fertile soils — and its thriving marijuana cultivation community — domestic cannabis yields would soar under legalization, according to advocates.
Much of the Mexican marijuana that reaches U.S. consumers today is a lower quality, “brick weed” type of commercial “schwag” — a relatively inexpensive product raised on remote mountain plantations with little husbandry or genetic refinement.
In contrast, the meticulously tended, ultra-potent marijuana typically grown in California sells for up to $40 a gram, and is a cartel-free local product, according to Eugene Davidovich, a member of the Best Buds Collective in San Diego.
“If someone comes in off the street, it doesn’t matter what the price is — we won’t buy it,” said Davidovich. The by-the-books collecteive offers products such as Trainwreck Hash, pot-infused arthritis balm, and jars of potent cannabis with such strain names as Afghani Goo.
Even the Drug Enforcement Administration now admits that as much as half of the U.S. marijuana supply is grown domestically, and the homegrown trend has already cut into drug cartel profits. The criminals have responded by setting up both indoor grows within the U.S., and large outdoor grows on public lands such as state and national parks.