Groups pushing to legalize marijuana north of the Rio Grande see Mexico’s change as an encouraging sign for their own struggle. Allen St. Pierre, head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says the Mexican law is part of changing global attitudes to the issue. “Cultural social norms are shifting around the world and in the United States. There will likely come a point when the majority see that prohibition is expensive and simply doesn’t work,” he says. St. Pierre points out that 13 U.S. states have already decriminalized marijuana and California has legalized it for limited medical use.
Mexico’s example could also influence other developing countries in their drug policies, St. Pierre says. “Governments seeing that Washington did not condemn Mexico for its law may be bolder in their own legislation. Countries are becoming aware that the United States with its millions of drug users should not be judging them on their policies,” he says. In February, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico signed a statement calling for decriminalization of several narcotics. “Current drug-repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions,” it said. (On Aug. 25, the Argentine supreme court essentially legalized the private use of small amounts of marijuana.)
But some see the Mexican laws as a step back rather than forward. Critics in Mexico say that decriminalizing users but not sellers will only strengthen the trafficking mafias that are waging a bloody turf war in Mexico. More than 12,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the past three years. The cartels make an estimated $30 billion smuggling narcotics north to American users and some $5 billion more selling to the Mexican market. “It is illogical to have a law that allows drug consumption but does not control where it is coming from,” says Representative Enrique Cardenas, who voted against the bill. “It will only fuel corruption and dealing.”