The administration of Chihuahua, Mexico, Governor Patricio Martinez has launched a study of marijuana legalization in the Mexican border state most widely known for the violent drug running organizations based in its largest city, the border town of Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso. The move comes after discussions on the topic during an April meeting of the governors of the Mexican border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamulipas, and leads the way to putting the topic on the agenda of the Commission of Border Governors, which includes both Mexican and US governors. The governors will meet later this month.
Gov. Martinez was already pumping up the idea of marijuana legalization at last year's border governor's conference in Tampico, Mexico, last June, when in a sign of independence from drug war orthodoxies, the governors issued a statement calling for drug use and the drug traffic on the border to be viewed primarily as a public health -- not crime -- issue. At that time, he said: "This should be studied, analyzed, and looked at to see what the people want and what the effects are from a different perspective that considers not only their prohibition, but also in given time their approval for medical purposes or rehabilitation or other reasons. We need to study all aspects of drug use, especially marijuana."
Despite the failure of his cross-border colleague, New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, to get a marijuana decrim bill passed this year, Martinez has not lost his ardor for the cause. "We, the border governors, have asked different institutions to study the issue of legalizing drugs," Martinez told a Mexico City newspaper. "Until now, what's been done hasn't worked because the use of drugs continues to grow, despite the war that has been launched."
While Martinez spoke about drugs in general, the study his administration has launched is looking only at the consequences of legalizing marijuana. The weed is so common in the border region, a Martinez spokesman told the Dallas Morning News, and efforts to curb it have failed so badly, that the governor had to look at the legalization option.
"We're studying the issue of legalizing marijuana from addiction to economics and everything in between," said spokesman Fernando Medina. "The governor has said that despite the countless offensives launched as part of the war against drugs, smuggling and drug use continue to grow. It's an issue we really need to study."
Not surprisingly for those who follow Mexico, the idea of legalizing marijuana has some support. The idea of legalizing marijuana in Chihuahua has so far been endorsed by Sen. Elias Moreno, president of the Commission on Health and Public Safety and Rep. Gregorio Urias, co-coordinator of a banking industry trade group and a member of the Commission on Public Accounts and Loans.
As well, Mexican social and political groups, some of which participated in Million Marijuana Marches in Mexico City last month, are coming on board. Among them are the Mexican Society for the Study of Cannabis, the Multiforo Alicia, a coalition of social and political organizations, some of which are linked to the Zapatistas, and the faculty of philosophy and letters at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.
The DEA is not amused. Osvaldo Amado, agency spokesman in El Paso, told the Morning News legalization would make the agency's job all the more difficult. "If it were to happen, the impact would be tremendous because it would put the whole burden on us," said Amado. "It would be very difficult for us. We just don't have the resources to deal with something like that."
It is a big business. Last fiscal year, DEA agents seized 184,000 pounds of pot in the El Paso sector alone, while Customs agents working the same sector seized 306,000 pounds in the same period. That is approaching a half-million pounds at El Paso alone, and that's only what got caught.
Almost a century ago, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa led US troops on a fruitless chase through Chihuahua as his soldiers sang border ballads about the weed. The famous tune "La Cucaracha" was one of them. "The cockroach can't walk because he doesn't have any marijuana to smoke," goes the famous line, although it loses something in the translation. Is a Pancho Villa Cannabis Cafe coming to Ciudad Juarez? Stay tuned.