Arizona AG: Pot legalization could prevent border violence
David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster
Published: Friday February 27, 2009

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Goddard: Cartel violence has killed over 1,000 in Mexico 'this year.'

When President Bush vowed to "smoke 'em out" in the chase for Osama bin Laden -- who his administration claimed to be America's greatest enemy -- he meant it in the Wild West sense, not the California sense.

Who'd have thought that by the time his predecessor took office, otherwise conservative officials would be considering another way of smoking out a new and growing threat to Americans' safety: Mexican drug cartels, whose profits are largely derived from the illegal smuggling and sale of marijuana.

On Friday, Democrat Terry Goddard, Arizona's Attorney General, said that while he's not in favor of legalizing marijuana, he thinks it should be debated as a way of curbing violence in the increasingly deadly clashes between Mexico's gangs.

He emphasized that over 1,000 people have been killed in cartel-related violence "this year."

Thursday, the Mexican government said it was sending 5,000 soldiers to Ciudad Juarez, a border town racked with violence, which recently saw its police chief resign and its mayor's life threatened. The troops are in addition to 2,000 others already station there.

Speaking to CNN's Kiran Chetry about the firearms trade between the US and Mexico, he noted that almost all the guns seized in Mexico's drug war came from the US.

"This is the source," he said. "This is the gun store for a great deal of the world."

"What's the answer?" asked Chetry.

"There'd have to be a variety of answers," he said. "But one of 'em would be to enforce our laws more aggressively."

Goddard said he believes new firearm purchasing requirements could be key in helping stop what's called "straw buying," or purchasing a weapon with no intent of actually owning it and instead turning it over to a criminal for a fee.

"If we could isolate those, we'd find a lot of the criminals," he suggested.

"The entire trade, of course, is fueled by the selling and buying of drugs," said Chetry. "There are some who make the case, including a former deputy foreign minister of Mexico who now works for the Brookings Institution -- somebody by the name of Andres Rosenthal -- who says maybe we need to rethink our drug laws."

Rosenthal is one of a growing chorus of former Latin American leaders who have voiced support for the legalization of marijuana.

"He says, 'As with the repeal of prohibition, the US must follow a common-sense approach by thinking the unthinkable: The gradual legalization of some drugs. The US must realize that all drugs are not created equal,'" said Chetry. "They go on to say that marijuana, maybe some methamphetamines, do not have the same harmful effects and legalization might make a difference. Do you agree?"

"Well, I don't," said Goddard. "But I do think the debate needs to go forward. We need to find a better way to handle ... Right now, the item that's fueling the violent cartels, the murders in Mexico, the cartel wars that are going on right now that have resulted in over 1,000 deaths this year, I think we need to take a very aggressive stand on that and marijuana is the number one producer for the cartels. Sixty to 70 percent of their gross profits comes from marijuana. So, I think we need to look very hard at something we haven't looked at for years."

"So, that lends some credence to the argument ... Of legalization," said Chetry.

"It's certainly is a strong argument for getting that debate front and center and finding whatever options we might have to cut off the devastation in Mexico," said Goddard. "What we fear here on the Arizona border is the cartel on cartel battle is going to end up spreading across the border.

"If we can't stop it in Mexico, we're gonna end up with violence in the United States and none of us want that," he concluded.

"Over the years, cannabis has become more potent and is associated with an increasing number of emergency room admissions," a recent International Narcotics Control Board report stated.

According to the UN agency, cannabis was often the first illicit drug taken by young people. Opponents of legalization often refer to it as a "gateway drug," implying it could lead to later use of harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin, which have much higher toxicity levels and rates of addiction.

"When today's youth use marijuana, they are using the same drug used by youth in the 1960s and 1970s," claims the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization which promotes legalization issues in Washington, D.C. "A small number of low-THC samples seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration are used to calculate a dramatic increase in potency. However, these samples were not representative of the marijuana generally available to users during this era. Potency data from the early 1980s to the present are more reliable, and they show no increase in the average THC content of marijuana. Even if marijuana potency were to increase, it would not necessarily make the drug more dangerous."

The group calls the "gateway drug" argument a "myth."

A recent Zogby poll found 44 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. In 2001 that figure was significantly lower: just 34 percent, according to a USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll.

On Tuesday, President Obama's Attorney General announced the federal government would not conduct police raids on marijuana dispensaries in states which have approved cannabis for medicinal purposes.

This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast Feb. 27, 2009.

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