A lot of north Americans will get high on last night’s vote – not because they are celebrating the re-election of Barack Obama as president, but following the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. In defiance of federal law, they have now become the first US states to legalise the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Although Oregon voters rejected the amendment, it’s a ground-breaking move which will change the tone of the debate on international drugs policy, test the balance of power between US states and the Federal Government, and affect Mexican security.
Medical-use cannabis is already legal in several US states. What makes Amendment 64 significant is that it would remove the prohibition on the commercial production of cannabis. In Colorado, pot can now in theory be legally sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system similar to alcohol sales. Personal possession of up to 28 grams (1 oz) will be legal for anyone at least 21 years old.
To get a bead on what this might mean, this is further than Netherlands has gone. There, contrary to common perception, it is only the retail sale of 5 grams that is legal. Production and wholesale remains illegal, and the law is vigorously enforced. That is why the price of pot in Amsterdam “coffee shops” is “little different than the price in US dispensaries,” as the authors of “Marijuana legalisation: what everyone needs to know”, argue here.
Here’s today’s food for thought:
The “drugs war” is stuck in an expensive and gory rut. The 40-year old policy of prohibition has failed. Production of illegal drugs has increased, so too consumption, and the violence associated with trafficking has only got worse – last week’s massacre of 53 people at a Monterrey casino in Mexico is just the latest grotesque incident.
Image by AP
More tragic news from the frontline of Latin America’s “drugs war”: the murder of Argentine singer Facundo Cabral last weekend, at the hand of drugs gangs in Guatemala.
The death of the balladeer has not created much of a stir in the Anglo-Saxon world. In Latin America, however, it remains front page news. The closest equivalent is perhaps John Lennon’s murder in 1980: a man, with malice in his heart, shoots a singer known for advocating peace.
“It is like throwing money down a hole.” The judgement from Mexican think-tank “Mexico Evalua” is a dispiriting verdict on the country’s four-year long offensive against organised crime, which has resulted in almost 40,000 deaths. But it also reads like a true one.
In 2009, Mexico spent a mere 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product on security. (Colombia spent eight times the amount, while the regional average is 1.5 per cent.) But boosting spending won’t make any difference, on Evalua’s reading, because the main problem in Mexico is not that it is trying to fight organised crime, but that it is using an institutional apparatus that does not work to do so.