EL PASO -- Legalizing marijuana in the United States would weaken Mexico's powerful drug cartels, panelists at a War on Drugs conference said Tuesday.
"If you take away half of their money, it will hurt them," said William Martin, a sociology professor at Rice University who studies drug abuse and government policy. "You are not going to break them, but you will hurt them."
Martin was one of the speakers at the two-day conference in El Paso that ended Tuesday. The conference examined America's 40-year-old War on Drugs and attempted to begin a national discussion on whether marijuana should be legalized.
Martin said selling marijuana as a legal, controlled product might keep smokers from trying other drugs.
"If you are not going to a dealer to buy marijuana, you are less likely to go after harder drugs," he said.
Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said people should not assume that decriminalizing marijuana would lead to more people using it. His organization helped push through a law in California that allows for small amounts of marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
But he acknowledged that getting people to consider legalization would be a tough task.
"Talking about the medical marijuana issue is the way to start," Nadelmann said. "In California, we had hoped that the medical issue discussion would lead to talks about legalization, but it hasn't."
El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez said politicians do not even like to broach the subject of legalizing marijuana because anything they say will be misconstrued by some voters.
"Even if 75 percent of the people support this, there are still some who don't," Rodríguez said. "In the atmosphere that we are in, this is something you don't want to comment on."
During the two-day conference, speaker after speaker said that the United States was as much to blame for the violence in Juárez as was the Mexican government. Now that Mexico is trying to rid itself of the drug cartels that have killed thousands of people in the past 20 months, the United States should have an honest debate about drug policies that have done nothing to lessen demand, panelists said.
El Paso city Rep. Beto O'Rourke said those who attended the conference are now armed with information.
"We can now exert public pressure on our elected officials to develop public policy that is best for this community because the drug policies we have now do not work," O'Rourke said. "As evidence, I point to the 3,200 people who have been killed in Juárez."
By Ramon Bracamontes
September 23, 2009
El Paso Times
War on Drugs conference: Legalize marijuana, participants say