The Mexican ambassador to the United States said Wednesday the decision by Colorado and Washington state to legalize marijuana for recreational use has had a "profound impact" on the public's perception of his country's efforts to halt drug smuggling across the southwestern border.
Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan said it is hard for people to understand why Mexico is trying to stop marijuana from going to the United States while two states have legalized it. "This is a huge problem and a huge challenge," he said.
The ambassador, during a wide-ranging conversation at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based center for policy analysis, exchange and communication on issues in Western Hemisphere affairs, said Mexican citizens are beginning to question whether their government should be spending its resources to stop drugs from crossing the border.
He said the Colorado and Washington state votes have not yet had an impact on Mexico's drug policy, but there could be "significant pressure" to change.
"It will be hard for a public official to explain to the mother of a federal police officer killed seeking to deter a shipment of marijuana coming into the United States that that was a good thing given that two states in the U.S. legalized marijuana," he said.
Mr. Sarukhan, who soon will be leaving his post with the change in administrations in his country, said the votes in Colorado and Washington state "may not have that big an impact on the finances of the cartels." A 2010 study by the Rand Corp. said Mexican drug cartels derive about 15 percent to 26 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales.
More than 47,500 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon began a military assault on drug cartels in 2006. Many of the dead have included military personnel and police.
Mr. Sarukhan said anyone who thinks legalizing marijuana is the answer to ending violence in Mexico is "absolutely wrong," pointing out that the drug cartels will "muscle into other illegal activities."
On Tuesday, Mr. Calderon said the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state limited the United States' "moral authority" to ask other nations to combat or restrict illegal drug trafficking. He said the legalization of marijuana, passed during the Nov. 6 general election, represented a fundamental change that requires a rethinking of public policy in the entire Western Hemisphere.
On Monday, the Mexican president was joined by leaders of Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica in calling for the Organization of American States to study the impact of the new laws and saying the U.N. General Assembly should hold a special session on the prohibition of drugs by 2015.
Mr. Sarukhan also said he thinks the time is "ripe" for immigration reform in the next two years in the United States, especially given the "political muscle" of the Latino vote in the Nov. 6 elections. But he said any reform effort needed to be comprehensive and not piecemeal.
For any immigration reform to succeed, he said, it needs to deal with two major issues: a temporary worker program and the status of the 11.5 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.
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