Mexico’s President-elect Signals Support for Drug Decriminalization

Shortly after Andrés Manuel López Obrador won Mexico’s presidential race by a landslide on July 1, 2018, his campaign promise to talk about legalizing drugs came up almost immediately.

“In terms of legalizing drugs, why not talk about it?” López Obrador said in May at a campaign rally. “There are many people who believe violence is a result of prohibition.”

President-elect López Obrador’s proposal came amid Mexico’s highest homicide rate in 20 years: Mexico’s Internal Security Department reported 29,168 murders in 2017.

Criminal groups and drug cartels hoping to control the outcome tend to become more blatant during elections. This year was no exception.

According to risk analysis company Etellekt, from the start of the presidential race in September 2017 to the end in June 2018, 145 politicians were assassinated, and 627 people — including party workers — were attacked, injured, and threatened.

While López Obrador talked about decriminalization, his choice for Secretary of Interior has people wondering whether Mexico might become the third country in the world, after Uruguay and Canada, to legalize cannabis.

“I absolutely believe in decriminalizing marijuana,” said former Supreme Court Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero in an interview with Telemundo on July 4, 2018. “Canada has legalized it and it’s been decriminalized by most states in the US.  What are we thinking? Are we going to keep on killing each other over this?”

Sánchez Cordero, who is being considered for a position in López Obrador’s cabinet, also suggested legalizing opium poppies, used in heroin production, because of their  pharmaceutical value.

“The world war against drugs has failed,” Sánchez Cordero wrote in Milenio.. “Legislating on the basis of more punishment and constant confrontation does not contribute to peace.”

The concept of “transitional justice” is part of Sánchez Cordero’s strategy.

“We will propose decriminalization, create truth commissions, we’ll attack the causes of poverty, and give scholarships to the youth and work in the field to get them out of the drug situation,” she told Reuters.

However, in her Milenio piece, Sánchez Cordero expressed concern about the “enormous power of organized crime” when it came to decriminalization. “As a producer of psychoactive drugs … we’re facing a public health problem due to violence and insecurity.”

Someone who has been on both sides of the “enormous power of organized crime” told that calling for total legalization of drugs can be dangerous.

“Some found it ironic when I publicly called for legalizing drugs, but it’s the most logical way to stop the cartels,” said Juan Sebastián Marroquín, the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s son. “Whether we’re talking legalization or decriminalization, we should stop enabling the drug cartels to continue their war on the rest of us.”

Marroquín, who changed his name after he and his mother fled to Argentina after his father’s killing in a shootout in December 1993, said he was threatened by drug traffickers when he called for legalization.

Mexico City political analyst and consultant Fernando Dworak Camargo told that  “decriminalization or legalization will be a challenge to national security no doubt, but will ultimately lead to positive economic, social and medical activity.”  

“If the new president is to achieve a reduction in violent crime, he’ll have to significantly restructure the drug laws and that means decriminalization,” Dworak Camargo said.

Sánchez Cordero said her peace plan, once reviewed by López Obrador, will be presented as a public referendum that will go before Congress if it passes.  

“We are not going to continue with the same strategy that hasn’t brought us positive results,” López Obrador told reporters at a campaign rally in January. “I will achieve peace and I will end the war…that is my commitment.”

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