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Blowing smoke

11 November 2012

Tim Fernholtz, a Los Angeles political reporter, writes in The Atlantic, about the presumed effects on Mexico of passage of referenda in two U.S. states that would completely decriminalize all marijuana use several other publications.  Other publications, notably the The Washington Post (under another writers’ name) basically copied Fernholtz’ article, giving — as is par for the U.S. media — a vision of Mexican political and economic issues distorted through the obsessions of the U.S. political class.

Fernholtz has written for both “progressive” and “libertarian” publications on marijuana legalization efforts in the United States, and apparently has been in Mexico at one time or another, but his article seems to be more wishful thinking than anything substantial.  In short, to claim “Mexico Is Rooting for U.S. Pot Legalization” is bullshit.

“Mexico” is apparently one “think tank” with an office in Polanco, that doesn’t have much of a profile within Mexico.  The Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad, A.C. (IMCO) appears to favor the standard neo-liberal solutions to social issues and its proposals are heavily slanted towards U.S. interests.  It favors persuading agricultural price supports and planting genetically-modified corn as its agricultural policy, and its proposal for strengthening the tourism sector is to lobby the U.S. to pay medicare benefits in Mexico.  I’m sure they have some good policies, and maybe they write some good research papers, but my point is just that IMCO is hardly representative of “Mexico”.

That IMCO sees some advantage to this country in some changes in two states’ laws (which may or may not have any meaning, since narcotics control is a federal, not state, matter to begin with), claiming that legalization (affecting less than four percent of the U.S. population) will

…  hit the cartels where it hurts: In the pocketbook, to the tune of several billion dollars. While tough police and military operations on both sides of the border have largely failed to slow the cartels, legalization would be “the biggest structural shock suffered by drug trafficking in Mexico since the massive arrival of cocaine in the late eighties,” …

It will?  Well, I suppose it’s possible that Washingtonians and Coloradians consume more marijuana than average, or that legalization presumes the two states will be exporting significant quantities of marijuana, which would cut into “cartel” profits.  On the other hand, to export in any significant amount, the two states will need to grow their own “cartels” as well.  Of course, with the Mexican “cartels” already said to be well-established in the United States, a good “free market” argument could be made for just letting the Mexicans handle the sales and distribution.  Which they’re likely to do anyway, even if heads must roll in Denver and Seattle.  Or, those so-called “cartels” will just turn to alternative means of financing:  bank robbery, extortion, people smuggling and so on.

One must remember that Mexico is not a country with any significant internal market for marijuana (only about one percent of Mexicans smoke marijuana, compared to somewhere around 15 percent of U.S. residents.  Although  crimes related to narcotics possession or distribution  are offenses against public health and possession of small amounts of narcotics for personal use having been legal since 2009 Mexicans, especially middle-class Mexicans (the ones who vote) tend to see marijuana-smoking as morally offensive or, at best, socially unacceptable behavior.  Although there are now and again arguments made for legalization in Mexico (Mexican-U.S. academic Jorge Casteñada being the most prominent), what arguments there are for legalization, like those made by PRI’s Cesár Duarte (the incoming Governor of Chihuahua) are in terms of treating marijuana as another agricultural product.

Certainly, a drop in marijuana sales would have some affect… but it wouldn’t necessarily put gangsters out of business as much as destroy job opportunities for the hard-pressed rural regions. The supposedly 400,000 people employed in the narcotics export trade aren’t all hitmen and thugs, but everyone from Sinaloan sharecroppers to taxi drivers augmenting their pay by serving as casual lookouts and tipsters.  How much would be picked up by legal exports isn’t considered.

And, be real.   Fernholtz, who took IMCO as the last word on Mexican opinion has been derided by American “progressives” as an “Obama apologist“.  The Obama Administration has shown absolutely no interest in ending it’s support for the Merida Initiative, by which U.S. weaponry and service providers get government funds to “assist” Mexico in slaughtering its own people.  That administration has been looking to expand its military presence (into Africa and Latin America… narcotics interdiction being a favorite rationale for the latter), and — with the need to show “job creation” — there’s little support for cutting spending on a war-industry where there is little blow-back  when there are U.S. fatalities except from blow-hards more interested in attacking Obama than dealing with the U.S. narcotics usage issue.  As it is, the revelations around “Fast and Furious” were used, not by the right, but by the left, in Mexico to question the premise of the “drug war”.

After all the slaughter of the last six years, and the horrifying results of the Calderón Administration’s policies, it’s always been a given that the “drug war” here was going to take a different course. Mexicans were “rooting for” less violence, not any particular question on some ballot in some U.S. state.

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