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California pot legalization ‘could end Mexican drug war’

By Daniel Tencer
Sunday, September 5, 2010 14:30 EDT
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Ex-New Mexico governor: Decriminalization ‘only practical way to weaken drug cartels’

Churches representing 1.5 million worshipers throw weight behind Prop 19

The Mexican drug war that has taken the lives of 28,000 people over the past four years could conceivably come to an end if California votes to legalize marijuana, say prominent American and Mexican policy makers.

Hector Aguilar Camín, editor of the Mexican magazine Nexos, and Jorge G. Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister and current lecturer at NYU, write in a Washington Post column that Mexican drug gangs could see their revenue drop 60 percent if marijuana was no longer a contraband item.

“As their immense profits shrank, the drug kingpins would be deprived of the almost unlimited money they now use to fund recruitment, arms purchases and bribes,” they write.

Camin and Castaneda’s arguments join those of the former Republican governor of New Mexico, Gary E. Johnson, who wrote at the FireDogLake blog Friday that marijuana decriminalization is “probably the only practical way to weaken the drug cartels.”

“America’s policy for almost 70 years has been to keep marijuana—arguably no more harmful than alcohol and used by 15 million Americans every month—confined to the illicit market, meaning we’ve given criminals a virtual monopoly on something that US researcher Jon Gettman estimates is a $36 billion a year industry, greater than corn and wheat combined,” Johnson wrote.

Last week, the California Council of Churches IMPACT, which claims to represent 21 denominations with 1.5 million worshipers, officially endorsed California’s Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that could see the state become the first in the Union to decriminalize marijuana by popular decree.

“The prohibition of marijuana has failed,” Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director of the California Council of Churches IMPACT, said in a statement. “It’s created a culture of criminality around a substance that is less harmful than both alcohol and tobacco, which are both legal, controlled, and taxed. Let’s control marijuana like alcohol by passing Proposition 19 in November.”

A recent poll shows that Proposition 19 would pass in California by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent if the vote were held today. But the lead enjoyed by decriminalization supporters appears to be shrinking as anti-decriminalization efforts pick up steam.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) last week announced she would be co-chairing the No on Prop 19 campaign, lending a prominent California voice to the effort to prevent decriminalization.

Police chiefs have also been coming out against the ballot initiative. Writing in the San Bernardino Sun, Fontana, California Police Chief Rodney G. Jones says that Prop 19 is “dangerous to residents” and “catastrophic” to the economy.

Jones argues that the proposition’s ban on workplace testing for marijuana would deprive California of federal government contracts, some of which require the maintenance of a “drug-free workplace.”

And he warns against California repeating the same pattern Alaska did with its marijuana decriminalization:

The legalization of marijuana has been attempted before and it failed horribly. In 1975 personal possession in Alaska was allowed by the Alaska Supreme Court for adults at least 19 years old. Studies showed that marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-old children doubled. In 1990 the residents of Alaska demonstrated their frustration by voting to “recriminalize” personal possession of marijuana.

But many law enforcement officers have thrown their weight behind the decriminalization effort, including the former police chiefs of Seattle and San Jose, as well as the National Black Police Association.

The initiative also has broad support among various factions of both the Democratic Party and the GOP. The California Young Democrats and the Republican Liberty Caucus have both endorsed Prop 19.

 
 
 
 
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