The bodies of cartel gunmen beside their vehicle after a shootout with Mexican soldiers (Source: http://defenseinvestigators.com/blog/2011/the-cartels-behind-mexicos-drug-war/)
Mexico is, arguably, the nation worst affected by the war on drugs. Since the country’s intensification of aggressive prohibitionism in 2006, more than 70,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, although the true figure is unknown. Such criminality has become so prevalent that it barely makes headlines, and the cartels exacting this violence are targeting all levels of Mexican society; ordinary civilians, journalists, police, soldiers and numerous public officials. Staggeringly, in the past seven years, at least 30 Mexican mayors have been murdered for daring to stand up to trafficking groups, including 15 in 2010 alone.
Mexican cooperation with US-sponsored counter-narcotic schemes, most notably the 2008 Mérida Initiative, has led to a further militarization of the drug war, yet little success. A 2010 report suggests that illegal narcotic transactions with the United States continue to boom; earning Mexican cartels around $40billion every year. The incredible wealth of these organizations is the primary reason that Mexican forces struggle to decrease trafficking or subdue the violence. Additionally, government corruption is a significant repercussion of the traffickers’ power; a 2012 exposé by political science professor Stephen Morris refers to the indictment or prosecution of Mexican “prison officials, military and police commanders, governors […], district attorneys, mayors and city officials, and hundreds of military police” for tacit involvement in the drug trade.
To reduce violence and corruption, it is vital for the state to act efficiently in reducing the income of cartels by targeting one of their main cash crops: marijuana. There are no verifiable statistics of how much marijuana trafficking contributes to Mexican cartels’ overall earnings, as estimates vary wildly – from 25–60%. However, it is undeniable that significant profits are made from the production and trafficking of the flowering plant. If marijuana were to be legalized, regulated and taxed, the trade could be taken over by either the state or legitimate private businesses. Legalization would be financially devastating for traffickers, and could potentially raise sufficient tax revenue for the government to suppress the vicious aspects of cartel activity that are destabilizing the state. Of course, as opponents argue, cartels may continue to fund their operations by selling marijuana through a legal system, but the legitimizing of the trade would vastly offset the associated violence and corruption.
This is not revolutionary thinking; Mexico has been ravaged by prohibitionism for decades, and critics have long-called for a reform of marijuana policy. However, the past year has seen significant international momentum growing against marijuana prohibition – from the passing of legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, to the on-going success of a legalization bill in the Uruguayan congress. Perhaps most importantly, senior Mexican political figures are now beginning to embrace the idea of legalization, and are publicly declaring so.
Earlier this month, a representative of the Mexico City council announced that the legalization of cultivation and usage was being considered – albeit being restricted to the capital city. Although well-intentioned, this measure may be insufficient even if implemented, as only nationwide legalization could be efficient in removing the trade from the hands of organized criminals. Meanwhile, former president Vicente Fox has placed himself firmly behind the anti-prohibitionist cause; comparing the illegality of marijuana to bans upon abortion and equal marriage – he declared “these arbitrarily imposed prohibitions have ended. And they ended because they don’t work”. Inversely, current president Enrique Peña Nieto has opposed such a change, citing the debunked myth of marijuana being a “gateway drug”.
Mexico’s proximity to the United States – the world leader in illegal drug consumption – has caused its citizens to face some of the deadliest consequences of militarized prohibitionism. As states across the USA reform their marijuana policy, it is essential for Mexico to keep up with their northern neighbor, and to end their war on marijuana before it claims more casualties.