Marijuana legalization in Mexico gaining support

By Laura Villagran|Dallas Morning News 

MEXICO CITY– Wearing a pressed shirt and tie, banging away on his laptop, law professor Alejandro Madrazo Lajous doesn’t come across as an activist for legalizing marijuana.

But as the attorney for an organization at the forefront of the growing legalization movement in Mexico, he is one of its most ardent advocates.

“Seeing the destruction of my country because of the war on drugs, I began to realize the importance of debating the idea,” said Madrazo, who is also an attorney for the Collective for an Integral Policy on Drugs.

Once a subject so taboo that college kids here didn’t even whisper about smoking pot, the idea of legalizing marijuana in Mexico has gained increasing favor, especially among a vocal group of academics, intellectuals and politicians.

Analysts say the shift – which echoes an increasing openness to legalization in the U.S. outside of Texas – is both a function of changing generational attitudes toward drugs and growing public frustration with the country’s drug war.

The death toll has risen to 28,000 since 2006, with more than 6,000 people killed in Ciudad Juárez, just across from El Paso, since 2008. President Felipe Calderón said recently he would support a national debate on the issue of legalization, reversing his previous stance on the subject. However, he underscored that he does not favor legalization, especially while the U.S., the world’s largest consumer of drugs, maintains prohibition.

Calderón’s call for a debate on legalization is significant, but political obstacles still stand in the way, said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.

“It would be very difficult for Mexico to legalize when its northern neighbor, the most powerful country in the world, is against legalization,” he said. “Mexico could not do that unilaterally without provoking a very strong political reaction from the United States.”

Yet attitudes toward legalization have slowly been changing in the U.S., too.

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