Can Obama and Peña Nieto Clear the Marijuana Smoke?

After speaking with TIME, Mexico's President-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, visits the White House Tuesday amid new Hispanic clout but new uncertainties about issues like the drug war

  • Share
  • Read Later
HECTOR GUERRERO / AFP / Getty Images

Mexican soldiers burn marijuana plants found amid a field of blue agave in El Llano, Hostotipaquillo, Jalisco State, Mexico.

President Obama and Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto already had more than enough on their bilateral agenda. When Peña Nieto visits the White House on Tuesday, he and Obama will briefly engage concerns ranging from immigration reform to trade with Asia. But a figurative yet pungent cloud of marijuana smoke may hang over their conversation as well — in the form of this month’s historic decision by voters in the states of Colorado and Washington to legalize pot.

Like a growing number of Latin American leaders, Peña, who takes office Dec. 1, says it may be time to reassess the drug war. In an interview with TIME, Peña has made his first direct remarks on the U.S. marijuana-legalization measures and how they complicate a four-decade-old drug interdiction strategy that has been widely branded a failure in both Mexico and the U.S. “Without a doubt,” Peña said this month during a wide-ranging conversation at his transition headquarters in Mexico City, which TIME will publish later this week, “it opens a space for a rethinking of our [drug-war] policy. It opens a debate about the course the drug war should be taking. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Mexican government is suddenly going to change what it’s doing now … but I am in favor of a hemispheric debate on the effectiveness of the drug-war route we’ve been on.”

(MORE: Peña Nieto Tells TIME: ‘I Want to Make Mexico an Emerging Power Again’)

A host of Latin American heads of state — including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, one of the Obama Administration’s closest allies in the region — have said much the same thing this year. Some, like Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, have even proposed drug legalization; Uruguay is set to legalize marijuana. That trend, aimed at depriving violent drug gangs of part of their narcowealth, reflects growing exasperation with a drug war that is fueled largely by incorrigible U.S. consumption but wreaks its mayhem mostly in Latin America, where Mexico has seen 60,000 drug-related murders in the past six years.

Washington is equally interested in Peña’s raft of proposals for reviving Mexico’s giant but sluggish economy, including a historic plan to allow private investment in its state-run oil industry. “I think [Mexico and the U.S.] can finally start moving beyond what is sometimes a monothematic relationship due to the [drug war] issue,” Peña says. “We can start focusing on prosperity issues again,” like Mexico’s participation with the U.S. in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. But restoring public security in Mexico is still his prime mandate. Even so, don’t expect Peña to stump for legal weed during his U.S. visit. “Personally, I’m against legalization,” he tells TIME. “I don’t think it’s the [right] route.” In that regard he and Obama — who, like U.S. federal law, still opposes legalization — are on the same page. The U.S., meanwhile, is extending some $1.5 billion to Mexico in antidrug aid.

Peña does, however, want Obama and the U.S. to know that if legalization has a future beyond Colorado and Washington, Mexico will have to reconsider marijuana interdiction on its own turf. State legalization “creates certain distortions and incongruences, since it’s in conflict with the [U.S.] federal government,” he says. “That will impact how Mexico and other countries in the hemisphere respond.” Among the questions: Should Mexican and other Latin American security forces keep risking their lives busting pot south of the border if it can be accessed legally north of it? And should Mexico itself just go ahead and legalize marijuana if that’s the case?

(MORE: How Enrique Peña Nieto Won Himself and His Party the Mexican Presidency)

For his part, Peña, 46, the former governor of central Mexico state, needs to reassure the U.S. as well as Mexicans that his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party — which ruled the country for most of the 20th century as a corrupt one-party dictatorship until it was finally defeated in the 2000 presidential election — has reformed and modernized. Peña, however, comes to Washington at a propitious moment for a Mexican President-elect, with Hispanic voters basking in their new political clout. Obama won re-election on Nov. 6 with a resounding 71% of the Latino vote, and Mexican-Americans account for two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population — a reality that advocates hope will help push immigration reform over the top in Obama’s second administration since Republicans have to attract more of that demographic.

In his TIME interview, Peña salutes the rising Mexican-American leverage: “I believe immigration reform is a commitment of President Obama’s government, especially since it gives him a chance to respond to the great demand expressed by U.S. Hispanic voters.”  A mediagenic moderate who is married to Mexican telenovela star Angélica Rivera, Peña is an avid golfer like Obama. The two may well make a future date on the links — and the fresh air might clear the smoke that Colorado and Washington just blew over Mexico-U.S. relations.

— With reporting by Ioan Grillo / Mexico City
MORE: From Mexico to Moscow, the World Turns On to U.S. Marijuana Legalization

25 comments
JohnThomas
JohnThomas

sverry7

>>>"Legalizing marajuana will not get rid of drug gangs"

Right. Like re-legalizing alcohol did not get rid of the prohibition gangs.

>>>"These suppliers will simply become legitimate "businessmen" who can then count on a stream of legal revenue to invest in the much more lucrative heroin and cocaine trade."

It's not much more lucrative because the numbers are puny compared to the massive marijuana market that was making them rich. Plus, with 80 percent of the "problem" disappearing with the end of marijuana prohibition, the propaganda-induced hysteria will fade and people will rationally reform ALL the drug laws.

>>>"legalize those drugs too, of course. Then, heroin shooters would have clean, safe, privately owned for profit establishments for pursuing their "recreation."

Good idea. Much better than the current mess which has them preying on citizens to get the high prices of the drugs they are addicted to - and then dying from preventable overdoses or other complications.

>>>"And of course we have advocates in North America for the legalization of prostitution."

Another good idea. Instead of having them create cesspools of disease and crime, the world's oldest profession, that will never go away, will be defanged, like they pragmatically and successfully did in the Netherlands.

Stop drinking the Kool-Aid. Most of America has.

ozette11
ozette11

It seems Obama or any “Presidency" for that matter has any control or power in this arena. The DEA and other drug based bureaucracies have immense power behind them. It does not matter how much evidence is produced that details the costs and extreme failure of This “War on Drugs. It goes on and on. Any tampering with current dug attitudes or laws threaten more jobs tan any other Industry in the world. The ‘War on Drugs” produces more jobs that the the Auto industry and the Oil industry combined. The only way change is going to take place is taking the power back such as in Washington and Colorado and the loosening of drug laws outside the USA, such as proposed by Mexico. It will have to be stuffed down  the DEA’s throat.

JohnThomas
JohnThomas

>>>"The only way change is going to take place is taking the power back such as in Washington and Colorado"

Right.  They did it and now it will spread like wildfire.  The beast is dying.

JohnThomas
JohnThomas

The "Reply" button is not working for me.

JohnThomas
JohnThomas

jhoughton1

Right. The beneficiaries of the fraudulent marijuana prohibition are legion. Police, prosecutors, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, drug treatment/testing industry and the prison industries, many shaky corporations that couldn't exist without the laundered money, and the drug gangs - and all their supporting industries, sit down at the table, devouring the lives of more than 800,000 consumers (those arrested) every year, in the U.S. alone.

For a good view underneath the iceburg, see Catherine Austin Fitts' excellent article: "Narco Dollars For Beginners." - keeping in mind that while Fitts employs cocaine because it best suits her metaphor, FBI statistics show marijuana sales comprise 80 percent of all "illegal" drug transactions.

http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/narcoDollars.html

It's time to dismantle the marijuana-prohibition-industrial-complex!

sverry7
sverry7 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Legalizing marajuana will not get rid of drug gangs and the dark cloud surrounding the drug trade. These suppliers will simply become legitimate "businessmen" who can then count on a stream of legal revenue to invest in the much more lucrative heroin and cocaine trade. The solution? Why, legalize those drugs too, of course. Then, heroin shooters would have clean, safe, privately owned for profit establishments for pursuing their "recreation." And of course we have advocates in North America for the legalization of prostitution. When one considers too that many state governments now play the role of Bugsy Segal and run casinos, the totality of converging legalizations has enormous potential not only for investors but for a whole new generation of consumers. But cigarettes? Fine the SOBs with the nerve to light up within 50 yards of one of these casino/brothel/drug consuming legitimate establishments. Hmm, could it be that a point is reached where tragedy becomes comedy?     

anvicting
anvicting

Thank God to President Barack Obama judgement to demolisheall and burn  all over States Marijuana plants toxic to the mind of the people overdose use of power to commit crime lost respect to GOD and people. I am glad  Pres. elect Enrique Pena Nieto to burn all Marijuana plant places in Mexico promised as full pledge agreementt with Pres. Obama to stop enormous savage crime in Mexico.

akpat
akpat like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well prohibition didn't work to well with booze, just made a lot of money for a few families. And now we have weed. Yup lets just make some money for a few families.

melonheadx13
melonheadx13 like.author.displayName 1 Like

seriously, who buys and smokes mexican dirt weed anymore?

Morpheus1289
Morpheus1289 like.author.displayName 1 Like

It's downright stupid that we haven't already legalized marijuana (albeit under restrictions) in the U.S. It's a well-known fact that everyone is going to use it whether it's legal or not. I ask this question: If people are going to continue using marijuana (for whatever reason it might be, medically or recreationally) why don't we take advantage of the situation and tax it. We would at least start making a dent in our fiscal debt (in many ways, both from taxation on weed, and reducing spending/strain on our correctional system holding people for petty marijuana offenses) in addition to halting a good portion of the violence that is caused by the illegal drug trade. Undeniably, the United States is single-handedly at the cause of much of the violence in Mexico, simply because we CREATE THE DEMAND for drugs. Someone has to fufill that demand for this harmless plant, why don't we just fill that demand for ourselves? 

TDLR: Marijuana prohibition is expensive and is a waste of time and money. It is undeniable that positive things would come from abolishing such a silly prohibition. 

Commentary42
Commentary42 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just legalize it already! Everywhere. It is no worse than alcohol and Prohibition was exactly the same kind of disaster. Legalize it in the US and Mexico both. Then it can be taxes and controlled for quality. Take it off the streets and put it into drug stores where it belongs. End of problem. 

Brokenindonesia
Brokenindonesia

ASEAN UN: It is better Obama's Armies free the golden West Papua Moluccas Sulawesi Borneo NusaBali Sumatra to be the new 7 countries Separated from java indonesia rather than the poor palestinian.

revraygreen
revraygreen like.author.displayName 1 Like

Please make the cannabis plant man of the year....

JohnThomas
JohnThomas like.author.displayName 1 Like

It's funny to see the "mainstream" media cling to the war on marijuana consumers as desperately as the corrupt politicians.

Colorado and Washington did not create a problem. They have finally presented the only real solution to the havoc created by the monstrously destructive, counter-productive, freedom-strangling FRAUD of marijuana prohibition.

A hearty thanks to citizens of both courageous states!

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

@JohnThomas You gotta understand, it goes beyond a few corrupt politicians.  Interdiction is an industry that exists within Law Enforcement. Legalizing drugs will break a whole lotta rice bowls, so the resistance to it isn't just moral.

TransformDrugs
TransformDrugs like.author.displayName 1 Like

Correction:  Uruguay is set to legalise and regulate marijuana (under a state monopoly) - not decriminalise it. Uruguay has never criminalised possession of small quantities of any drugs for personal use.

DLaun
DLaun

Sucking up to the United States for the MONEY - If the MONEY was not there - They would be all FOR Legalization!

revraygreen
revraygreen like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

TIME magazine person of the year should be the cannabis plant.......

jeromekjerome
jeromekjerome

What is conspicuously absent from this discussion is the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which we and most of the world are signatories. Unless you believe there are no truly dangerous drugs in the world, abrogation of this treaty by the United States presents a formidable barrier.Nor can this barrier be overcome simply by rescheduling the classification of marijuana to some lower level. While this solution may go a long way under US law, marijuana under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is actually written into the language of the treaty itself rather than appearing in its classification schedules. So in order to legalize marijuana in the United States without breaking our international treaty obligations, the entire treaty must be renegotiated if we are not to run the risk that truly dangerous drugs escape international regulation.This is the more complex reason, rarely covered in the Washington Post or any other mainstream media, why the Obama administration has done nothing in the face of overwhelming public support for legalization of marijuana.

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

@jeromekjerome marijuana is not a dangerous drug.  has anyone ever died from smoking it?  no, but crime related to its use has caused death and imprisonment for everything related to its illegality.  actually marijuana's illegality makes it quite a profitable economic activity.

KevinHunt
KevinHunt

@jeromekjerome If you read the treaty carefully, it allows member states to approve licensed production of cannabis. 

Alternatively, we could convince the U.N. to go along with a rescheduling scheme by bribing them.  It would take less than an afternoon to get it done.  The UN doesn't really do anything useful, anyway.

ckstopford
ckstopford like.author.displayName 1 Like

@jeromekjerome Since when has the US felt obligated to comply with international law?  Let's take the case of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, condemned by every country in the world with the exception of the US, Israel, and a small third-world state.... or the indefinite detention and torture of so-called "enemy combatants?"  The US does what it wants with impunity. And the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs places cannabis on Schedule IV AT THE INSISTENCE OF THE US.  The whole thing is a scam to put Mexican and other South American countries at our mercy, keep them at bay combatting internal violence, and maintain their reliance on the power of the US.  We could legalize not only marijuana, but commercial hemp (not covered in the SCND but nonetheless banned in the US) in a heartbeat.  Your argument is specious.