The Mexican government signaled this week that its approach to fighting drug trafficking in the region could change after voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday.
A top aide for Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who will take office in December, said Thursday that the passage of the two controversial voter referendums in the U.S.—Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington—were potentially “game-changing.” Peña Nieto advisor Luis Vidagaray said the president-elect does not think that drug legalization will solve cartel violence in the region, but that Mexico’s drug strategies would now have to be revisited.
“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,” Videgaray said.
About half of all marijuana consumed in the U.S. comes from Mexico, but it is not clear how much legalization of the drug in two U.S. states will impact the revenue of Mexican drug cartels. Eric Olson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, said that revenue from marijuana comprises about 20 percent of cartels’ total revenue. A 2010 study by the Rand Corporation said that drug cartels derive about 15 to 26 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales.
However, a different study, by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, said that legalizing marijuana in just the state of Washington could cut drug cartel profits by $1.37 billion, or 23 percent.
Residents of Mexico City had mixed reactions to the news on Thursday. “What they do there, they do here, and for us that is a big problem,” said a Mexican woman interviewed by Univisión after the elections.
Another woman was less certain that legalization is a mistake. “I don’t know what the result will be, but I think it’s a path that we need to start looking at: the idea of legalizing certain drugs, certain things.”
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.