Marijuana: Mexico sees Amendment 64 as way to moderate its pot policy, analyst says

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The response to Amendment 64's passage has gone international, with Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president suggesting that his country's pot policies may have to change as a result of the measure, as well as a similar one approved in Washington. A marijuana analyst sees the comments as evidence Mexico and other the Latin American nations would like to move toward cannabis legalization and view A64 as a way to raise the subject.

"Prohibition has been a failed public policy in the United States," says Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project -- one of the principal funders of Amendment 64's campaign. "But in Mexico, it's been lethal. It's been catastrophic."

Riffle is using these terms literally. "There have been 50,000 deaths" related to drug trade in Mexico, he says. "That's about how many servicemen we lost in the Vietnam war. And I think it's been pretty clear for a while that Mexico has been sending signals as best they can that we need to look at legalization as an alternative to a failed policy."

Calderon was not nearly so explicit in remarks made in Mexico City yesterday. As reported by CBS, he met there with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize. Afterward, Calderon was quoted as saying, "It has become necessary to analyze in depth the implications for public policy and health in our nations emerging from the state and local moves to allow the legal production, consumption and distribution of marijuana in some countries of our continent."

He added that marijuana legalization measures by these states -- meaning Colorado and Washington, whose pot measure is known as Initiative 502 -- represents "a paradigm change on the part of those entities in respect to the current international system."

Granted, Calderon won't be on the job for much longer; he was elected in 2006 to a single six-year term. But while President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto is publicly opposed to drug legalization, CBS points out that he's promised to focus more on preventing violence against the citizenry as a whole as opposed to pouring all of the nation's resources into a duel to the death with drug cartels. Moreover, Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, is now an advocate for broad drug legalization.

"After he left office, Fox made the conversion immediately," Riffle says. "And President Calderon has been talking about market solutions. I think that once he's out of office, he'll become a full-throated advocate for legalization."

Such sentiments have been tough for leaders in Mexico to voice while they're still in office, Riffle acknowledges. However, he sees change on the horizon.

Continue to read more of our interview with Dan Riffle about Latin America's response to Amendment 64. "Because the U.S. is the dominant power we are, we've used diplomatic leverage to prevent Mexico and other Latin American countries from talking too much about legalization. But now that these states [Colorado and Washington] have taken action, it's given them leeway to talk more about legalization and how we need to look at alternatives to the current policy."

When asked if he thinks pressure from Calderon and the other leaders might dissuade the federal government from bringing the hammer down in Colorado and Washington to prevent the respective measures from going into effect, Riffle disputes the premise.

"I'm not sure we really expect a hammer coming down," he says. "The leeway they've shown to Colorado's medical marijuana program shows that the federal government has already taken a softer approach -- given states leeway to enforce the policies they want.

"There's nothing the federal government can do about Colorado removing criminal penalties" for adults 21 and over who possess an ounce or less of marijuana, he goes on. "The best they can do is interfere with Colorado's regulation of the manufacture and sale of marijuana -- and I don't see any public-policy reason to do that. Whether you're in Colorado or Mexico, I think most people want marijuana to be taken away from the cartels and put in the hands of taxpaying, regulated businesses."

As he points out, "the federal government has known for over a year that these two ballot initiatives were going to be on the ballot, and they've known since July they were polling over 50 percent, and their silence speaks volumes. So I think they'll play a minimalist constitutional role, where their primary concern is the prevention of interstate trafficking. I think they'll say that what Colorado wants to do is Colorado's business, but they want to prevent this from becoming an industry that expands beyond Colorado's border -- at least until those states change laws the way Colorado has."

Of course, there's another border that concerns Mexico. During a radio appearance last week cited in the CBS article linked above, Luis Videgaray, who heads Pena Nieto's transition team, said, "Obviously we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: John Hickenlooper stresses urgency in Amendment 64 call to Eric Holder."

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