John Paul Rathbone

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 hereRead more

John Paul Rathbone

“Who is Henry?” has become something of a political parlour game in Latin America. I’m referring, of course, to Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s putative president-elect, and Henrique Capriles, the challenger in Venezuela’s presidential election in October. Both Henrys are held up as potential reformers. But how true – or more important, how likely – is that really? Both face serious obstacles. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Enrique Peña Nieto

Enrique Peña Nieto on July 2 (Daniel Aguilar/Getty Images)

What will the rest of Latin America make of Enrique Peña Nieto’s election as Mexico’s new president – and, with him, the return to power of the PRI?

Latin America felt like a very different place the last time Mexico held presidential elections in 2006. Back then, commodity prices were soaring and free-spending populist governments (or the “new Latin American left”, as they was sometimes characterised) were sweeping the polls. That is why the near-win in Mexico by leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka Amlo) was so closely watched. It would have made Mexico the crowning piece of a regional jigsaw dominated by populist (to varying degrees) or leftist (depending on how you view them) presidents in Argentina and Brazil, plus the more ideological group of ALBA nations – Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. At the time, such regional attention may also have emboldened Amlo, who went on to protest for three months, during sit-ins in Mexico City’s main thoroughfares and central square, that his victory has been stolen by Felipe Calderón’s centre right PAN.

Today, however, the regional political landscape has shifted. Populist (or leftist) governments are no longer ascendant. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Mexico’s three month presidential campaign ended officially on Wednesday. The vote is on Sunday, with results expected by midnight, local time. JP Rathbone gives us his insights on the possible outcomes.  Read more

We’ll be keeping an eye out for the US Supreme Court decision on Obamacare today, but these are the reads that caught our eye on the world news desk this morning:

Here is what the world desk is reading and chatting about today:

John Paul Rathbone

Mexican Federal police arrest men on suspicion of possessing drugs during an anti-narcotics operation in the Tepito district in Mexico City April 11, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

Anti-narcotic arrests in Mexico City. Reuters/ Daniel Aguilar

Growing calls from Latin America that it’s time to rethink the “War on Drugs” has lead to a near-intoxicating barrage of documents, books, speeches and studies on the subject. Here’s one of the latest – a US Senate report on “Reducing the US demand for illegal drugs”.

Given that some 50,000 people have died in Mexico over the past six years during that country’s battle against organised crime, and that the US spends some $190bn a year on drug enforcement, health care and addiction costs – equivalent to a quarter of its military budget – this is more than a fanciful “nice-to-have” idea. It is surely a must.

Three findings grabbed my attention. First, illegal drug use continues to rise in the US. At 9 per cent of the population, it is now at its highest rate in a decade. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

General Óscar Naranjo is known as the world’s “best policeman”, or at least that is what the Canadian mounties have called Colombia’s top cop. Gen Naranjo, profiled here by the FT, is also looking for a job.

The unassuming Jesuit-schooled 56-year old, who has shaped and led Colombia’s pretty successful two-decade-long fight against organised crime, said last month that he would step down in July as head of Colombia’s 160,000-strong police force. After leading the institution for five years it was time, he said, for somebody else to take charge. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Josefina Vázquez Mota. Photo AP

Women currently govern some 40 per cent of Latin America’s population. If Josefina Vázquez Mota wins Mexico’s presidential elections in July, that figure will rise to 60 per cent. “I will be Mexico’s first presidenta (female president),” Ms Vázquez said this month after she won the primary of the conservative National Action PartyRead more