MEXICO CITY — The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has left Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his team scrambling to reformulate their anti-drug strategies in light of what one senior aide said was a referendum that “changes the rules of the game.”
It is too early to know what Mexico’s response to the successful ballot measures will be, but a top aide said Peña Nieto and members of his incoming administration will discuss the issue with President Obama and congressional leaders in Washington this month. The legalization votes, however, are expected to spark a broad debate in Mexico about the direction and costs of the U.S.-backed drug war here.
Mexico spends billions of dollars each year confronting violent trafficking organizations that threaten the security of the country but whose main market is the United States, the largest consumer of drugs in the world.
With Washington’s urging and support, Mexican soldiers roam the mountains burning clandestine plantations filled with marijuana destined for the United States. Mexico’s police and military last year seized almost as much marijuana as did U.S. agents working the Southwest border region.
About 60,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, and tens of thousands have been arrested and incarcerated. The drug violence and the state response to narcotics trafficking and organized crime have consumed the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderon.
“The legalization of marijuana forces us to think very hard about our strategy to combat criminal organizations, mainly because the largest consumer in the world has liberalized its laws,” said Manlio Fabio Beltrones, leader of Peña Nieto’s party in Mexico’s Congress.