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On marijuana and the Mexican drug war...

After legalization of recreational marijuana use in two US states, Mexico may rein in interdiction efforts.

By Staff writer / November 8, 2012

More coming across the border.. or less?

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Earlier today, I wrote a piece expressing skepticism that legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado could deal a major blow to that country's violent drug gangs.

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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But one point that I failed to consider is the impact of two approved US ballot measures on Mexican policy. It turns out that incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto may adjust his country's approach to tackling marijuana production in his country in response.

The AP reports that the head of President Pena Nieto's transition team Luis Videgaray told Radio Formula that:

... the Mexican administration taking power in three weeks remains opposed to drug legalization. But he said the votes in the two states complicate his country's commitment to quashing the growing and smuggling of a plant now seen by many as legal in part of the U.S.

"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," Videgaray said. "I believe this obliges us to think the relationship in regards to security ... This is an unforeseen element."

Videgaray stopped short of threatening to curtail Mexican enforcement of marijuana laws, but his comments, less than three weeks before Pena Nieto travels to the White House days before taking office, appeared likely to increase pressure on the Obama administration to strictly enforce U.S. federal law, which still forbids recreational pot use.

The AP also quotes Alejandro Hope, a former senior Mexican intelligence official who helped author a paper arguing that Mexican drug gangs would be damaged by the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington (summarized here) as saying that if the US federal government cracks down on the marijuana trade anyways, the impact in Mexico will be negligible. What will the Obama administration do? We'll see.

And if the Mexican government becomes less interested in enforcing anti-marijuana laws, will that make much difference? On the one hand, probably not. The big drug traffickers move cocaine as well, and remain a violent threat to government authority in multiple Mexican states. But if it does, the marijuana business could become a less dangerous, and therefore less expensive, business for Mexican traffickers to engage in. It's not inconceivable that could lead to much cheaper Mexican marijuana entering the US than currently.

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