A top aide to Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto says votes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state will force the Mexican government to rethink its efforts at trying to halt marijuana smuggling across the southwestern border.
Luis Videgaray, former general coordinator of Mr. Pena Nieto’s presidential campaign this year and now head of the transition team, told Radio Formula 970 in Mexico City that the new administration has consistently opposed the legalization of drugs, and the Colorado and Washington votes conflict with his government’s long-standing and costly efforts to eradicate the cultivation and smuggling of marijuana.
“These important modifications change somewhat the rules of the game in the relationship with the United States,” Mr. Videgaray said. “I think we have to carry out a review of our joint policies in regard to drug trafficking and security in general.
“Obviously, we can’t handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status,” he said.
Mr. Videgaray is expected to play a significant role in the Pena Nieto administration. The president-elect, who will assume office Dec. 1, said in September that Mr. Videgaray would head the team that will set policy direction for the new government.
More than 47,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon began a military assault on violent drug cartels in 2006. Many of the dead have included Mexican military personnel and police.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Pena Nieto vowed to continue Mexico’s fight against drug trafficking, although he said he would revise strategies and work to reduce violence. Some U.S. policymakers have expressed concerns that his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had been known for allowing drug-trafficking cartels semiautonomous control of certain regions.
The topic of legalized marijuana is sure to come up during Mr. Pena Nieto’s planned Nov. 27 trip to the U.S., when he will visit the White House.
The Obama administration has been silent on the issue of legalized recreational marijuana, although it vigorously and publicly opposed a similar measure in 2010 in California that ultimately was defeated. At that time, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued a warning letter saying the Justice Department would enforce federal drug laws even if the state initiative passed.
In the letter, Mr. Holder said the Justice Department remained committed to provisions of the Controlled Substances Act in all states, “even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
In the letter, he argued that legalizing recreational marijuana would be a “significant impediment” to federal efforts with state and local law enforcement authorities to target drug traffickers.
Mr. Holder did not publicly comment on this year’s efforts to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state.
Asked about the Colorado and Washington state votes, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said only: “The department’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiatives and have no additional comment at this time.”
The White House has issued no comment on Mr. Videgaray’s remarks.
Officials at the Mexican Embassy in Washington declined to comment, noting that the Pena Nieto administration is part of the PRI while they belong to the Partido Accion Nacional, or the PAN.
The legalization laws allow those 21 and older in Washington state to purchase an ounce of marijuana from a licensed retailer and in Colorado to possess an ounce of the drug and grow as many as six plants in private. The Colorado law is scheduled to go into effect in June. The Washington law starts in December 2013.
As a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is deemed to have a high potential for abuse and has no accepted medical use. Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.