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Latin America's leaders condemn California's Prop. 19 to legalize marijuana

Californians vote next week on whether to legalize recreational marijuana use. The presidents of Colombia and Mexico on Tuesday called Prop. 19 'confusing' and 'inconsistent.'

By Staff writer / October 27, 2010

Marijuana is harvested in Davenport, Calif., on Oct. 12. Many in Latin America say a 'yes' vote on Prop 19 would undermine their fight to root out organized crime and stem illegal drug production and distribution to the US.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP


Mexico City

With death tolls mounting and institutions under threat from drug trafficking organizations, some Latin American leaders are condemning a California initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use.

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Many in Latin America say a “yes” vote on Proposition 19 on Nov. 2 would undermine their fight to root out organized crime and stem illegal drug production and distribution to the United States.

The debate is a contentious one in America, and opinion south of the border is also divided over how Prop. 19 could affect drug violence in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Some say it would be a blow to drug traffickers, as it would rob them of a lucrative market, while others say it will do little to impact overall revenues and could in fact increase demand and sales from illegal gangs.

Bullets and cocktails

Javier Oliva Posada, a drug expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, says it is hard to gauge how the initiative would affect the international marijuana market and the strategic fight against organized crime. But the implications on morale in Mexico are clear, especially if a regional approach is not taken.

"As Mexican authorities see a death toll increase and human rights abuse allegations go up, they will look at the other side smoking marijuana for fun,” he says. “On this side there will be bullets, and on the other there will be cocktail parties.”

The issue was at center stage at a Tuesday summit in Cartagena, Colombia, where leaders expressed concern over Prop. 19 and urged countries to take a firm, uniform approach to drug policy.

America's confusing policies

"It's confusing for our people to see that, while we lose lives and invest resources in the fight against drug trafficking, in consuming countries initiatives like California's referendum are being promoted," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said during his speech.