State-level cannabis legalization and U.S.-Mexican relations

Mexicans are outraged that two U.S. states voted to legalize marijuana. Why? That can only be good for Mexico.

Studying drug policy is no fun if you like things to make sense. But it’s a good way to cultivate an appreciation of the absurd.

The United States consumes large amounts of cocaine, cannabis, heroin, and methamphetamine, most of which enters the country from the south. Mexican drug trafficking organizations are able to make money exporting drugs into that rich market; after U.S. enforcement pressure shut down the Caribbean route, drugs started to flow overland through Mexico.

The official policy of the United States government is to treat the effect as the cause, and demand that the Mexican government force its residents to stop selling what our residents are buying. That would be extremely hard for Mexico to do even if its law enforcement and judicial capacities were much greater than in fact they are. In the meantime, dealing-related violence takes about a thousand Mexican lives per month.

Mexicans who pay attention to all this are justifiably annoyed that the U.S., having created a massive problem for Mexico, keeps demanding that Mexico “do something about it,” especially since most of what we urge them to do – increase enforcement pressure on drug dealers – is more apt to exacerbate the violence than to reduce it.

The U.S. is also a big fan of the futile activity of crop eradication, especially the aerial spraying of pesticides on drug crops: except in the U.S. where environmental concerns preclude spraying, and we concentrate on the even more futile activity of cutting down the crops by hand. Mexico has long insisted that the U.S. increase its own domestic crop-eradication effort.

Of course this demand makes no practical sense whatever; whatever drugs are produced in the U.S. will displace Mexican imports, thus reducing the stress on Mexican government and society. In effect the Mexicans are saying, “We won’t do the ridiculous thing you ask of us unless you do it, too.”

The latest iteration of this Policy Theater of the Absurd involves the decisions of voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize cannabis production for non-medical use. As a practical matter, that can only benefit Mexico by reducing U.S. demand for Mexican weed. (That would be true, to a significant extent, only if drugs produced licitly in Washington and Colorado were “exported” illicitly to the rest of the country; whether state controls and federal enforcement could prevent that remains to be seen.) But as a symbolic matter, Mexicans whose countrymen are dying in the service of the U.S.-promoted drug war regard this – or pretend to regard it – as an outrage.

Felipe Calderon, the outgoing President, whose crackdown policy failed to stem the violence and may well have made it worse, has joined the chorus calling for rethinking the international drug-control regime. A little re-thinking – a little thinking, for that matter – wouldn’t come amiss. But the notion that the U.S. somehow owes it to Mexico not to let Colorado and Washington experiment with cannabis legalization is not really a thoughtful notion.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

9 thoughts on “State-level cannabis legalization and U.S.-Mexican relations”

  1. I’ve often wondered over this. Reactionaries blame ‘the pushers’ rather than ‘the teenagers’? The US continually scolds and menaces South America and Mexico over our national drug consumption? These behaviors seem baldly absurd, yet no one seems much inclined to poke at this lie with a pointy stick. I googled Orwell’s “in front of one’s nose” quotation just now, and in doing so I found that it is the thesis of an essay: . This is weirdly apt. I’m not really surprised.

    Anyway, I surfed over here in eager anticipation of a fusillade over the “Republicans hobbled by hermetic news bubble” story. You’re the Reality-Based Community! This is rightly yours! You should be lapping the bitter tears off Karl Rove’s toad face.

    Sadly, like me, you seem to have already searched behind the sofa cushions for just one more morsel of outrage, but, sadly, come up short.

  2. Porfirio Diaz maybe did, maybe didn’t, but at least ought have said: “Poor Mexico: So Far From God, And So Close to the United States”. I can’t see how we can run a national drug policy with pot legal in 2 states and illegal in 48. The money sluicing into the hands of the cartels from our druggies is overwhelming Mexican institutions, and making a misery of the lives of honorable people trying to make their lives in Mexico. Our war on drugs – if a success – would improve lives here in US, so might be worth doing, but it is so obviously a failure that it’s hard to justify visiting its disbenefits on Mexicans.

  3. Maybe what they’re really mad about is that it took us soooooooooooooo long to wake the bleep up already. Maybe they’re just mad, period. I sure as bleep would be.

  4. “Mexico has long insisted that the U.S. increase its own domestic crop-eradication effort.”

    Whatever for? The more we can produce domestically, the less we need to import from them.

    “A little re-thinking – a little thinking, for that matter – wouldn’t come amiss.”

    A little rethinking isn’t gonna do it. What’s needed is a lot of rethinking.

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