A few weeks ago, the Mexican Senate passed a bill to legalize marijuana. If the initiative passes in Congress, there could be regulation of the entire cannabis industry — from the legal commerce of marijuana to the production and export of the product.
The new policies could grant licenses for planting, cultivation, and harvest, and allow private consumption as long as minors are absent. This bill directly contrasts a 2018 Supreme Court decision, which essentially made laws criminalizing marijuana unenforceable, even though law enforcement could arrest individuals for possession. Given the fact that Mexico is one of the primary suppliers of marijuana to the U.S., Mexico’s marijuana legalization would significantly impact its foreign supply chain.
Legalization would also substantially address the violence perpetrated by both drug cartels and law enforcement that has been the cause for many innocent civilian deaths.
During the administration of former president Felipe Calderón, drug trafficking was at its peak and was the main cause of violence in Mexico. At the start of his administration, Mexico’s approach to this issue mainly focused on militarization, using its army as a means of combating drug cartels. One of the main reasons why this approach was, and has been, unsuccessful is because Mexican drug cartels can use their tens of billions of dollars earned each year to bribe corrupt law enforcement institutions, judges, and politicians into complicity.
The impunity of drug cartels has created an increasingly violent environment for Mexican civilians, uninvolved in drug trafficking. In 2019, there were more than 35,000 murders from drug violence — a number even surpassing the deaths caused by the consumption of the drugs alone.
Military and law enforcement officials who work together to search for drug cartel members usually engage in operations without any kind of surveillance or accountability from civil and non-military institutions. This has permitted these officials to detain, torture, and murder innocent civilians — with many occurrences of forced disappearances — without any warrants or a proper criminal investigation.
Among the many different sectors of the population who are victims of forced disappearances, human rights activists and journalists are the most targeted group. Between 2011 and 2013, The National Network of Human Rights Defenders recorded 104 cases of aggression against human rights defenders and organizations, with 409 cases of assault and 27 murders.
Due to the nature of their occupation, exposing corruption of both the Mexican government and drug cartels, activists and journalists are continuously harassed and threatened. Their unacknowledged disappearances are often carried out by the very drug cartels and federal institutions they are seeking justice from.
Their unacknowledged disappearances are often carried out by the very drug cartels and federal institutions they are seeking justice from.
This happened to María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a journalist for Valor por Tamaulipas. Fuentes Rubio reported on the violence perpetrated by military officials and drug traffickers, using her social media to “to help warn and alert [Mexican] citizens to incidences of crime and violence occurring in their communities.” On Oct. 15, 2014, Fuentes was tracked down by cartel members and was kidnapped and murdered.
To this day, it is unknown if there has been an investigation to find those responsible or an attempt to locate her body.
As there is a long history of a lack of action to pursue justice for victims of drug violence, more recently The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Inter American Press Association “urged Mexico to do more to investigate the killings and protect journalists,” — following the murder of three journalists in the span of 10 days.
Mexican citizens are not the only group that suffer from drug violence. Central and South American migrants entering Mexico face many threats from criminal organizations, as explained in a 2018 report that analyzed organized crime and Central American migration.
One of these dangers unique to Central and South American migrants is post-structural violence. Post-structural violence, as explained in a paper written by sociologist Simón Pedro Izcara Palacios, include instances in which victims are forced to become the “executioner” to survive in a violent environment.
In regard to Central American migrants, the report interviewed 53 Central American migrants who were kidnapped and forced by Mexican drug cartels to partake in criminal activities such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder. Moreover, Central and South American immigrants forced to enter these systems find themselves trapped and unable to migrate to the U.S., where Latinx immigrants are rampantly gatekept.
While marijuana is not the only drug that violent cartels thrive on, its legalization in Mexico could be a step toward reducing instances of drug violence. The U.S., however, is not likely to follow in legalization, as much of its prison population is composed of Black and brown people incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes — exploited for cheap, profitable labor.
Another fundamental reason that the U.S. does not legalize or decriminalize marijuana at the federal level is the fact that sustained drug violence in Mexico fuels the nation’s exclusion of Central and South American migrants, many whose final destination is the U.S.
And while the U.S. has previously offered financial support to Latin American countries with cartel violence, like in Colombia, it has been counterproductive. This involvement produced what Costa Rican sociologists Jonathan Daniel Rosen and Roberto Zepeda Martínez call the ballon effect. The ballon effect is the phenomenon in which a government decides to combat drug production and trafficking in one country but, as a result, drug production and trafficking shift to an adjacent country.
It can be noted therefore that, to some extent, Mexico suffered from the War on Drugs because drug trafficking routes were shifted from Colombia to Mexico. In this way, we cannot understand and address the War on Drugs in Latin America without emphasizing the role of the U.S. in allowing the problem to worsen. This is why an effective solution would also require the U.S. to regulate and control its demand of drugs.
Marijuana justice is a transnational form of justice, as legalizing it could provide liberation at both a national and global level. In Mexico — and the whole region of Latin America — where drug violence has been fueled by U.S. imperialism, legalizing marijuana could have repercussions far greater than just being able to recreationally smoke or giving affluent Mexican teenagers easier access to the drug.
Decriminalizing marijuana would mean halting drug cartel sanctioned violence, harming marginalized communities such as Central and South American migrants. It would mean no longer criminalizing impoverished youth of color that have had to deal to feed their families. Marijuana justice is a step toward Global South sovereignty from the U.S.
Last updated 12/9/20
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