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Drug Legalization: El Paso City Council Unanimously Calls for National Debate, Mayor Vetoes Resolution Same Day, Override Vote Set For Next Week

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #567)
Consequences of Prohibition

Spurred by the unending prohibition-related violence tormenting Mexico, and in particular, Ciudad Juárez, El Paso's sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande, the El Paso City Council Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution that called for, among other things, "a serious debate" on drug legalization as a means of ending the violence. But Mayor John Cook, who sat silently through the council meeting, vetoed the resolution the same afternoon.

DEA El Paso graphic (
The battle isn't over. South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke announced Wednesday he would seek to override the veto at the council meeting this coming Tuesday. The resolution passed 8-0; he will need six votes to override.

Drafted by the city's Border Relations Committee, the resolution outlined 11 steps the US and Mexican governments can take to help El Paso's "besieged and beleaguered sister city." But O'Rourke proposed a 12th step -- which also passed unanimously -- an amendment calling on national leaders to "support an honest open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics." (See the draft resolution not including the amendment here.)

"We know the war on drugs is empowering the drug lords and is costing us millions of dollars," O'Rourke told his fellow council members. "Let's start an honest national debate that would end the prohibition of narcotics," he said, successfully urging them to support his amendment.

"It's a terrible situation that calls for a more dramatic solution than just asking for stepped up enforcement," O'Rourke said after the Tuesday meeting. "What I asked for today and the council approved was urging our representatives to have an honest, open dialogue about ending the prohibition on narcotics," he told the El Paso Times."I hope our congressman, Silvestre Reyes, and our US senators hear us loud and clear and have a very difficult and politically challenging debate, one that needs to happen. We can't continue the status quo; it's not working."

But El Paso's federal representatives may not hear the council's request loud and clear, because later Tuesday afternoon Mayor Cook issued his veto. "The action of council... undermines the hard work of the committee by adding new language which may affect the credibility of the entire resolution," he said in the veto. "It is not realistic to believe that the US Congress will seriously consider any broad-based debate on the legalization of narcotics," Cook added. "That position is not consistent with the community standards both locally and nationally."

Cook's after-the-fact veto angered several council members. "I am really disappointed. I went and told him that personally," O'Rourke said. "This amendment received unanimous support from council and it also received the support of the members of the committee who wrote the resolution."

Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega said he respected Cook's decision, but disagreed with it. "The controversial amendment merely calls for the initiation of a debate regarding the prohibition of narcotics. It does not endorse the legalization of drugs but it places it on the table for debate," he said. "Ending cartel related violence in Juárez represents this region's biggest challenge and justifies an all-inclusive dialogue concerning potential solutions."

"I completely understand... this is a very uncomfortable conversation to have," said West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd. "But the reason that I am compelled to support the resolution as we approved it is that whatever we have been doing in the last 40 years has not worked."

But Cook told the Times that asking for a debate on ending prohibition diverted attention from the real issue. "The whole purpose of the resolution was to get national attention to the violence in Juárez," he said. "After it was amended, the focus was placed instead on legalizing drugs in the United States."

And US Rep. Reyes, who would have been one of the recipients of the resolution, told the Times he would not have been receptive anyway. "Legalizing the types of drugs that are being smuggled across the border is not an effective way to combat the violence in Mexico," he said. "I would not support efforts in Congress that would seek to do so."

O'Rourke was irritated with the mayor's backroom maneuver. "We started a conversation about solutions ... a conversation that was supported by everyone on council," he said. "The mayor, though, didn't say a word during the meeting. It wasn't until I received a Xerox copy of his veto that I heard from him."

Now O'Rourke has to keep his fellow council members on board for Tuesday's vote. "My intention is to ask that this be on the Tuesday agenda, as adopted, for reconsideration, and we'll just see how the votes fall," O'Rourke said Wedneday. "I'm going to respect whatever the members of .council decide to do.After hearing from their constituents, they may have a different take on it."

Council members may fear the call for open debate on drug legalization will alienate voters ahead of looming elections, he said. "Unquestionably, it gets tougher for those representatives and the mayor to make this decision knowing they are going to face the voters in less than six months."

The debate over whether to even talk about radical drug policy reform continues to roil El Paso, and Tuesday's meeting should be interesting, to say the least. Among the latest to join the fray was former Mayor Bill Tilney, who served from 1991 to 1993. Where he came down was evident from the title of the op-ed he penned Wednesday: "Former mayor to City Council: Stay the course on drug resolution."

Some elected officials, such as Mayor Cook and Rep. Reyes, may want to close their eyes and plug their ears, but all El Pasoans have to do is look across the border to see how well the drug war is working. More than 5,000 Mexicans died in prohibition-related violence last year, hundreds of them in Ciudad Juárez alone. Now the people closest to the border are starting to demand something besides more of the same old same old.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Maybe the council should pass an ordinance banning extra marital sex because it might cause AIDS and other diseases and see if the mayor agrees. Clearly the War on Drugs makes about as much sense as a War on Sex

Fri, 01/09/2009 - 1:47pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It's been a gruelling 107 years of drug war insanity and it's worse than ever in practical terms as we well know. And I daresay for us tired yet tireless freedom fighters---now is the time to press our fight! Drug warriors and prohibition loving morons have long had nary a leg to stand on in any debate. Their last stand save the children argument can be knocked down with a feather. They have for years resorted to hysteria and absurd obfuscations and we often pondered how some of them can be so dense. Such is the nature of entrenched minds and institutionalized madness.
You'd have thought "reefer madness", the killing of 3000 innocent Panamanians(just cuz), shooting down suspected drug planes, Prohibition 1, the camel caravan massacre, the firing squads of China, Rush Limbaugh, dime bag, Gangland, Donald Scott, the Opium War, 5000 dead in Mexico in the last year, forbidden fruit, pursuit of happiness, 173 children dead in Philadelphia cross-fire in 7 months alone, the senseless ruination of 100's of millions of lives and the squandering of trillions of dollars year after year might have opened Souder, Mica, Hatch, Fienstein, O'reilly and even Lou Dobbs eyes. They think it's right that booze should be the only legal drug and that those who choose to use elsewise must go to jail. We need to smash the rotting corpse of drug prohibition in their faces. Not that these cretins would get it even then. They all need to pay dearly for their ignorance and their part in sustaining the madness.
Our forefathers became agitated when a king taxed their tea. We need to press our fight for the above mentioned injustices and literally billions more.
There are many ways to fight this war. Find some that please you and keep up the good fight.

Sat, 01/10/2009 - 9:57am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Support the 'EL Paso 8'. End prohibition. Do it for the children. ONly 11.2% of Americans believe the war on drugs is working (2008 Zogby Poll). Currently, 208,291 people have responded to the TIME POLL in which 87.3% favor the legalization of marijuana. Watch Lou Dobbs go rabid over the idea that we even discuss legalizing some drugs. Please, won't the 88.8% of you out there reading this who favor an end to the drug wars contact Lou Dobbs? Let him know that the vast majority of Americans want an end to war on drugs. Atleast we should legalize marijuana. After all, it is safer than alcohol or tobacco. Thanks and support the 'EL PASO 8'.

Sun, 01/11/2009 - 7:53am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I took the suggestion of "support the El-Paso 8" to share my thoughts with Mr. Dobbs and I thought I would share it with Chronicle readers as well so here goes:

In regards to Mr. Dobbs comments suggesting "cowardice" among the members of the El-Paso city council in calling for "a serious debate on drug legalization as a means of ending the violence" and the "courage" of the mayor in vetoing the councils unanimous decision I believe he has it backwards.

Rational examination of the failure of prohibition is utterly absent from the airwaves for the same reason. Mr Dobbs, like Mayor Cook are the real cowards here as they are afraid of even allowing a simple debate on the merits of legalisation. Why, you may ask? The answer, that even a small peek at the truth would show the utter fallicy of prohibition.

I host a weekly two hour radio show on a 100 watt all-volunteer radio station. I am the only voice on the airwaves in my small community who is willing to discuss this issue. As a result I have a good sense that the publics opinion regarding prohibition is that of overall failure. I therefore encourage Mr. Dobbs to grow the guts it takes to speak truth to power on the subject of drug prohibition, if he is not capable of that then perhaps he should devote a programme arguing we outlaw tobacco and alcohol from a public health standpoint. Remember Mr. Dobbs, the media is not blessed with high public opinion ratings these days and your show uses the public airwaves to broadcast your garbage analysis. You owe it to the public, speak the truth or quit your job, your soul is not worth what they are paying you.

Thu, 01/15/2009 - 1:57pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Keeping drugs illegal helps guys like Cook and Dobbs
and hurts the people.... Look around folks. This is what they want, for us to be at
war with ourselves in a battle that has been staged in order to turn us into prisoners
and them into wardens. Cook is an enemy to the people of El Paso.
He is a pawn of an organization that profits from the misery and destruction of the
drug war.

Wed, 01/21/2009 - 11:27am Permalink
tom slaff (not verified)

You know I have been telling these stories on this ridiculous drug war for 40 years..l have watched our goverment bring in drugs and sell them to us and then bust us with there stings...Pretty good when they can sell us drugs then bust us..They the police have turned into the criminal..Because the injustice of this war is criminal..How many times do you think they busted people and skimed a little for there self..thats just part of this phoney drug war..They have used this drug war as a way to take away our rights,,invade our privacy..Just think of the people that test positive for weed even though they might not have smoked for a couple of weeks,,So the guy doesnt get the job or he test positive and has to go threw the turnstile court donation..Its time to take our country back and end this ridiculouss drug war...

Thu, 01/21/2010 - 2:25am Permalink

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