A new drug war, this one over whether marijuana legalization would help or hinder Juárez, got under way Monday.
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City Reps. Beto O'Rourke and Susie Byrd called a news conference to say they believe reforming drug laws and legalizing marijuana would help reduce violence in Mexico.
O'Rourke and Byrd, joined at the Paso del Norte Bridge by fellow city Reps. Steve Ortega and Ann Morgan Lilly, displayed a declaration in support of Juárez.
Oscar J. Martinez, a history professor and border expert at the University of Arizona, read from the group's resolution.
"Those who think they have the moral high ground by supporting prohibition are not giving proper attention to the disastrous consequences of that tragically misguided policy," said Martinez, a native of Juárez.
"The cure has been much more deadly than the disease itself. The price of prohibition - turning cities like Juárez into killing fields of massive proportions - is totally unacceptable and morally repugnant."
Others in public life disagreed with the City Council members, describing their idea as counterproductive.
"Legalizing marijuana in the U.S. will make things worse in Mexico," said Jaime O. Perez, El Paso County chief of staff and the Republican candidate for county judge. "The violence will increase in Juárez. Even the smaller cartels will try to get into the business, and they will try to control the drug-trafficking corridors and kill more people.
"Legalization will also ensure spillover violence into El Paso," Perez said.
Retired DEA official Sandalio Gonzalez and state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-Texas, agreed with Perez that legalizing marijuana was no solution to the border problems of drug-trafficking and violence.
"There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that marijuana is the cause of all the drug-related violence in Mexico or anywhere else," Gonzalez said. "You still have cocaine, heroin and meth to deal with. I don't see the logic in the argument that legalizing one drug will take care of the problem."
Shapleigh issued a statement saying: "While debate on legalization is critical to better strategies and informed democracy, I do not believe legalization is the answer. We should reduce drug demand with better education and rehabilitation programs here in the U.S. and focus now on practical applications of 'Beyond Merida' to deal with violence in Juárez today."
The Merida Initiative is a $1.3 billion U.S. assistance package for training and equipment to help Mexico fight drug cartels.
Shapleigh said President Barack Obama and Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, may announce initiatives intended to improve life in the border region during their meeting Thursday in Washington, D.C,
Byrd said Monday's gathering at the bridge, which also attracted college students, academics and activists from West Texas and Southern New Mexico, was a call to action. She asked supporters to sign the declaration at www.drugwar40.wordpress.com and contact U.S. federal lawmakers and Obama before Wednesday's White House state dinner with Calderón (www.whitehouse.gov/contact).
The group conducted its news conference at a border crossing where U.S. federal officers routinely seize drugs and arrest suspected drug dealers.
State Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, said she did not advocate the use of drugs, but stood with those favoring marijuana legalization.
"I was there to support this new resolution because it calls for us to recognize the dignity of the people getting killed in Juárez. We cannot overlook the civil rights violations and atrocities occurring," she said.
More than 5,150 people have been murdered in Juárez since 2008. Mexican authorities attributed most of the violence to the drug-cartel wars. According to Mexican officials, the Juárez homicide rate is 139.2 per 100,000 population, compared with Chihuahua's statewide rate of 97.5 per 100,000 and Mexico's rate of 11.6 per 100,000.
"You have the deadliest city in the world on one side of the bridge and the second-safest city in the U.S. on the other," O'Rourke said of Juárez and El Paso.
The debate on marijuana legalization is not limited to the Texas-Mexico border.
In November, voters in California will decide whether to legalize marijuana in that state. If approved, the initiative would permit people who are 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of pot for personal use.
By Diana Washington Valdez
May 17, 2010
El Paso Times
Video can be found here Legalizing pot could help Juárez, officials say
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Legalizing pot could help Juárez, officials say