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Former Mexican official urges legalizing marijuana

February 2nd, 2010
11:35 PM ET
Mexico’s former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda and Mexico's Consul General in New York Rubén Beltrán
Mexico’s former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda and Mexico's Consul General in New York Rubén Beltrán

(CNN) – The United States and Mexico should both legalize marijuana in an attempt to break the power of the Mexican drug cartels and end the spiraling violence south of the border, Mexico’s former Foreign Minister said Tuesday.

Jorge Castaneda, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, said, “It should be legalized in both countries”. He stated it was ridiculous for Mexico to try to stop marijuana from entering the U.S. when it’s legally sold for medical purposes in Los Angeles.

“The Drug Enforcement Administration says that 60 percent of the Mexican (drug) cartels’ profits come from marijuana. If we start with that, it’s a big chunk”, he added.

“We can’t do everything overnight.. and we can’t do it in Mexico if the U.S. doesn’t do it at the same time.”

Castaneda strongly criticized Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon for declaring war against the drug cartels, a war that has cost as many as 17,000 lives since he took office in December 2006.

He said 900 people were killed in the past month alone – a new monthly record.  Sixteen students died in what’s thought to be a drug-related massacre in the border city of Juarez over the weekend.

“It’s hard for me quite honestly – and I think for many Mexicans – to accept that the more deaths we have, the more successful the strategy is”, he added.

“I think President Calderon rushed into this, and now we’re paying the consequences.”

Mexico’s Consul General in New York, Ruben Beltran, who also served in the U.S. border states of California and Arizona, strongly disagreed with Castaneda’s assessment.

“Are we going to raise the white flag? Are we going to surrender? Are we going to surrender the ability of the government to look for the rule of law and secure the rule of law?” he said.

“I don’t think there’s an alternative. The monopoly of force – use of force – pertains to the state, and the state is the one who should use the force to secure the stability of the country.”

President Calderon has sent 45,000 troops to help overstretched police departments fight the drug cartels.

Beltran said, “What we’re witnessing right now is maybe the peak of that violence. Let me assure you that the Mexican government is not going to relinquish its duty to confront organized crime, and that’s what’s happening right now.”

Castaneda though said Mexico was paying an enormously high price because of the aggressive approach of the Calderon government.  He said the administration should be seeking to contain drug cartels, not destroy them.

“It’s not different from what 100,000 American troops are doing in Afghanistan with heroin. Not one of those troops is combating the heroin traffic from Afghanistan. They’re containing it because they have other priorities”, Castaneda stated.

Beltran said it’s going to take more than one administration in Mexico City to defeat the drug cartels. He also called on the U.S. to provide more help. “In order for Mexico to be successful in this war, we need increased cooperation with the United States to stem the flow of cash, weapons, and ammo from the United States to Mexico.”

Castaneda though pointed out that on a recent trip across the border from San Diego to Tijuana there was not the slightest inspection of any car crossing from north to south, on either the U.S. or Mexican side of the border.

“They can’t do it. It’s too expensive. The local communities don’t want it. It backs up queues tens of miles north, the same way as in the south. They’re not going to do it.”

Castaneda’s remarks appear flatly to contradict a promise by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in March last year when she said, “We’re sending technology to the border that will allow us to scan or do non-invasive X-rays to see whether cars are carrying assault weapons, other kinds of weapons, that are flowing into Mexico to fuel these drug cartels.”

Filed under:  1 • Mexico
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Todd

    Huge amounts of Americans have been screaming for the Legalization of Marijuana while the poll's are showing all time highs for support. How many more people have to die? how much longer do millions of Americans have to live in fear of hypocritical laws, how many more billions in enforcement and jailing do we have to waste before our corrupt politicians funded by the vast prison industrial complex realize that this war on weed is NOT popular and not wanted.

    February 3, 2010 at 11:13 am | Reply
  2. Assi

    Drug legalization is not going to yield good results. Government should impose itself, otherwise it is a sign that any unfolding phenomenon will see the government lay down arms and surrender.
    It will show individuals impose themselves to the majority ; individual goals are obviously not good for the welfare of the community.
    For this reason, we must defeat such selfish goals that drug cartels represent.

    February 3, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  3. Dave

    The war on drugs is a JOKE! How many AMERICAN cops? American lawyers? American politicians are also taking bribes from Mexican mafias?? Plenty! If we think that corruption of our police and military is only a 3rd world problem, some thing that only happens south of the border, keep on getting stoned! Keep on dreaming and putting flowers in your hair and wandering around San Francisco! These mafias have so much money and power, deadly, heartless, that most Americans now have no idea who they are dealing with. Sadly enough, in Mexico we know all to well what kind of bastards the narcos are, they would kill their own mother, brother, baby if they suspect them to be traitors! So I agree with Todd, legalize all these drugs, and TAX them! Can you imagine what our economy would be like if we could tax all of these drugs!!!!

    February 3, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  4. Bda

    The cartels don't want it legalised. Whose side are you on? Stand up and be counted.

    February 6, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  5. kassandra

    Marijuana should not be legalized, it should be decriminalized! its time to face the facts. it should have never been illegal to begin with. if you have not realized yet, IT IS A PLANT! it grows from what everyone believes "god" created, then they make it illegal... its kinda like a slap in the face to your god, dont you think?
    there should not be a law against growing, possessing, selling, or smoking something that is 100% natural.

    I cant believe that it is as big of an issue as it is. it is proven that alcohol and cigarettes do more damage to your health than marijuana, but the government is making bank by taxing both and sitting back and watching while americans take puff after puff and sip after sip of those chemicals!

    February 7, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  6. frankosandiego

    This catastrophe in Mexico is the product of a naive and shortsighted US drug policy that has snowballed since the 1930s. The level of violence is a horrifying demonstration of the law of unintended consequences.

    Apparently, the US legalized alcohol before the crime syndicates could become extremely wealthy multi-headed, international crime-Godzilla’s. The current out-of-control drug crime situation in Mexico should prove once and for all that you can't base national drug policy on propaganda, a suppression of research and a blind eye to the market law of supply and demand and expect the world to work just right.

    It seems to me that the Mexican drug gangs have been making so much money now for so long that even if Mexico were to now legalize drugs – or just Cannabis for example – in order to eliminate illegal profits the bad guys would just be forced into other criminal pursuits and Mexican society would remain as tortured as ever with violence, American guns and crime. The gangs would still have a lot of wealth and influence. Mexican institutions are weak. Control through legalization is a great idea – 40 years ago! – but now could be too little too late for Mexico to avoid endless violence and chaos.

    Legalization in both the US and Mexico should be viewed as a prerequisite to eliminating drug gangs. The paradox is: legalize drugs in order to control them and to eliminate attendant crime. Think of this as Frnak’s Law: Legal drugs are controllable and illegal drugs are uncontrollable.

    If the US and Mexican government were to now legalize all illegal drugs and tax their consumption it would destroy the street values of these things. With no huge illegal profits to be had the underground international trade – with it's attendant trail of crimes – would dry up.

    There are a large number of US jobs that are dependant on the status quo. The current war on drugs and the forfeiture laws have meant full employment and bonuses for the DEA and other US law enforcement types since at least the 1960s.

    Maybe the international gangs themselves are the hidden controllers of our governments, the DEA and law enforcement. Maybe it is the drug gangs themselves who out-maneuver both enforcement and legalization efforts by their legion of proxies. Maybe the gangs themselves maintain the status quo to ensure the perpetuity of their immense untaxed profits.


    February 8, 2010 at 1:03 am | Reply
  7. Rafael

    Never mentioned in the interview with Castañeda or Beltran is the mention of the "Enabler" for the Drug Cartels to proliferate, to succeed and even to "buy" governments. The "Enabler" is simply the obscenely massive amounts of "Cash" that flow unimpeded back into thecartel's hands from the U.S. It amazes me to see the focus on weapons when instead it is the huge profits (cash) that enable the thugs to purchase the weaponry and vehicles used in this drug war along the U. S.- Mexico border.

    Unless an inocuous '02 Chevy Lumina has the proverbial defective taillight as it traverses the U. S. from Baltimore to Nuevo Laredo carrying $12 million in cash, the driver will not be stopped and unless the driver appears nervous, he will simply be issued a warning to fix the taillight.

    And at the border, in 90% of the cases he merely crosses into Mexico without any questioning by any official on either side of the border if an official is even present.

    The absurdity of Nancy Reagan's "Just say no to drugs" is like fighting the Nazi's with 'cream puff's' during WWII. The only way to cripple and stop the cartels is to stop the flow of cash into their coffers and we have done nothing about it. Stop the flow of cash into Wal-Mart and you cripple it. With approximately $20 Billion in drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico's cartels, $20 Billion in cash is flowing back without disruption.

    The assertion that it cannot be done as stated by one of your guests is also absurd and a myth. It 'must' be done or else the cartels will continue to grow and succeed and ultimately totally control our neighber to the south. They are already quite metastasized at all levels of Mexico's local, state and federal governments. If your guests don't think they control elections, dream on.

    Legalizing drugs. Perhaps marijuana, but brace yourself if we were to legalize cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine. If you think the battles in the U.S. against alcholism is bad, the deliterious affects of hard narcotics will be devastating to a society.

    Stop the flow of cash and you cripple the Cartels! It can be done. This is a subject for a serious interview, Christiane. Please do it.

    February 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  8. Coriantumr

    One Clarification: Coming back from any border crossing point in the US everybody will have to go through Immigration and Customs [The Policia Fiscal]. The random semaphores allow the system to avoid backups. If anybody has something to declare then it is directed to the proper lane. There has been little if any comments, at least publicly, as to whether the weapons and ammo come through the non-commercial traffic or through commercial traffic. Commercial traffic follows a similar procedure but if flagged for inspection, at least in theory, the inspection can be very thorough and detailed. Clearly it would help if a random check rolling points could be manned at the American side. But there should be more information available from the Mexican Police as to how the weapons are coming through. The Mexican papers, always under the threat of violence, carefully avoid this and any other info. But some of us located at US Cities do not have that problem. The Mexican Government can publish through the Web outside of Mexico, relieving the pressure of violence against publishers . But there is some fault on both Journalists, and the Mexican Government on clarifying the issue. This issue has to be politicized, unfortunately, in the US side in such a way that public opinion is able to at least consider those checkpoints, if warranted by proof. Given the current climate of anti-Mexican sentiment this has to be done immediately.

    February 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  9. chester

    Anybody who believes it should remain illegal is with the terrorists. Can this statement be refuted? I think not.

    Let me lay out the danger of marijuana for anyone truly curious about it: I remember the first time I ever got high from pot I was 16. Some of my first thoughts were, you're kidding me god. I didn't feel like a lazy, lifeless couch potato. I didn't feel dumb. To the contrary, intelligence roams without being held back as much. My creativity flew through the roof. I started doing better in school, because everything seemed more interesting after ingesting the THC from this plant. The most "harmful" thing about marijuana is that it is capable of diminishing faith in the system, the establishment, what have you, because somehow it leads the mind to critically think freely enough to get you to realize that our civilization as it stands now is totally full of it.

    Western civilization IS full of it, drug wars are ironically a great example of that. As late comedian Bill Hicks says, making marijuana against the law is like saying god made a mistake. You can't just make a plant illegal, it like anything else in nature has a function which deserves our respect. This plant is not even capable of killing you. But of course in America we have to live as prey to all these damn rackets, the drug war being one of them. I wonder how much money these mexican cartels will put up to fight California's effort to legalize pot?

    Reasons to legalize pot in the U.S.:

    1) 17,000 killed in Mexico since Dec. 2006. Ok cartels don't just deal in pot, but still, that number is outrageous. Cartels torture a lot of people as well
    2) Taxed, a fresh source of revenue for local and federal govt. Billions and billions of dollars.
    3) Creativity is an advantage Americans still do have on the rest of the world. Pot boosts creative energy in people. Anything that even might inspire better ideas, more creative design, groundbreaking art and music is going to be good for this country and humanity
    4) It has medical benefits, clearly.
    5) It would chill this country out and we can sure use more of that in these tense times

    February 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Reply
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