- Title: Gang-ravaged Mexico stuck in weed ban as U.S. opens up
- Date: 30th December 2016
- Summary: MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (RECENT - DECEMBER 2016) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF CONGRESS BUILDING SENATE IN SESSION (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) SENATOR FROM MEXICO'S NATIONAL ACTION PARTY, ROBERTO GIL ZUARTH, SAYING: "Mexico needs to move forward, and soon. We need to resolve this debate. It doesn't make any sense for us to continue with all these deaths while in the United States use (of marijuana) is legal. Especially because the marijuana market, marijuana's movement, the trafficking of marijuana to the United States represents approximately 40 percent of criminal gangs' income. It's a lot of money and this money is used to finance other kinds of illicit activities."
- Embargoed: 14th January 2017 00:13
- Keywords: Mexico drugs marijuana criminal violence prohibition legalisation medical marijuana United States
- Location: MAGDALENA, JALISCO; TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA; AND MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
- City: MAGDALENA, JALISCO; TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA; AND MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
- Country: Mexico
- Topics: Health/Medicine
- Reuters ID: LVA0025EXSM6B
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:Mexico, for years the front line of a U.S.-led war on drugs that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, is still mired in prohibitionist policies even as the United States and Canada step up the liberalization of marijuana.
California in November became the first border state to vote for comprehensive cannabis legalization, and shortly afterward Mexico's Senate made its first move to catch up - but only with a medical marijuana bill still needing lower house approval.
Meanwhile in 2016, Mexican drug gang violence has shot up again to its worst level in four years, making lawmakers' reluctance to follow President Enrique Pena Nieto's own calls to further liberalize marijuana laws deeply ironic.
"Mexico needs to move forward, and soon. We need to resolve this debate. It doesn't make any sense for us to continue with all these deaths while in the United States use (of marijuana) is legal. Especially because the marijuana market, marijuana's movement, the trafficking of marijuana to the United States represents approximately 40 percent of criminal gangs' income. It's a lot of money and this money is used to finance other kinds of illicit activities," said Senator Roberto Gil Zuarth of the National Action Party.
Since the government began a military-led crackdown on drug cartels ten years ago, well over 100,000 people have died in gang-related violence and many thousands more have disappeared.
But starting with Washington and Colorado in 2012, a growing number of U.S. states have legalized recreational use of marijuana, while more than two dozen - plus Canada - now permit medicinal use of the drug to varying degrees.
Pena Nieto said back in 2014 his country could not pursue diverging paths with the United States on marijuana.
California, which has an economy roughly twice the size of Mexico's, was widely seen as a bellwether for change.
Mexico's Supreme Court last year set the ball rolling in a landmark case, granting a handful of people the right to grow and consume weed, and inspiring hope for change.
In April, Pena Nieto sent Congress a bill to decriminalize possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana for personal use, and free people jailed for holding up to that amount.
But senators in his own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rejected that part of the bill, saying it "required a greater analysis," and only backing medical marijuana use.
Mexico-based drug policy consultant Zara Snapp said the senators aren't recognizing the court decision, but said it is good the conversation is being had.
"It is good news that the debate in Mexico is back on the table and that we might be able to find the political will and also complaints from society so that we can have a more responsible form of regulation. Because what the legislators have proposed up until today isn't what we need. It doesn't go as far as the Supreme Court's decision. There are precedents in Mexico. We have the Grace Elizalde case for medical use and we have last year's Supreme Court decision," Snapp said also referring to a 2015 case in which a federal judge ordered that an eight-year-old girl with epilepsy should be allowed to use drugs derived from marijuana to ease her symptoms.
Some experts say the PRI in part blamed heavy losses in state elections in June on liberal proposals by Pena Nieto, including a stalled bill on gay marriage.
Opinion polls show that while there is public support for medical marijuana use, Mexicans are still resistant to the idea of an outright liberalization of the drug for recreational ends.
"Ok, so if they can't traffic marijuana anymore, the most that is going to happen is they won't make any money. But at best there might be a little more violence or they'll use kidnapping and extortion to make up for the money they can no longer get from trafficking marijuana," Jose Luis Bojorquez, a baker from Tijuana, a border city synonymous with Mexican drug traffickers selling to U.S. buyers, told Reuters in November.
"I don't want it legalised here in Mexico because it would be super easy for youngsters to get a hold of. Youngsters in high school or middle school. And the drug takes them over, they fall behind in their studies, it taints people. I really don't want Mexico to legalise it," another Tijuana resident, Nidia Sobreanes said.
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