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Oct. 21 chat: Mexico's drug war versus legalization in California

Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 21, 2010 - 12:00 - 12:30

Marijuana: for many Californians it's a recreational pastime, a drug innocuous enough to be legalized. For Mexicans, it's scourge killing thousands. As Californians prepare for a historical referendum, GlobalPost's Mexico correspondent Ioan Grillo participated in a chat with members where he answered questions about what legalization might mean for the deadly drug war south-of-the-border. 

 

 

12:00

GlobalPost:

Greetings all.

12:00

GlobalPost:

Welcome to GlobalPostMembership’s chat with Ioan Grillo.

12:00

GlobalPost:

Ioan is GlobalPost’s Mexico correspondent.

12:00

GlobalPost:

He’s currently working on a book on how Mexican drug cartels have morphed from peasant smugglers into a paramilitary death squads who threaten Mexico's democracy. It is a look inside the hidden world of these gangs and at the brutal mafia capitalism they perpetrate, and it is the tale of many ordinary Mexicans fighting their war and victims of it.

12:01

GlobalPost:

We’ve asked him to join us today to talk about the California referendum to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

12:01

GP-ChatHost:

Just a quick note to the audience:

12:01

GP-ChatHost:

if you have a question for Ioan, please message me, GP-ChatHost, by pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE." without the quotes

12:01

GP-ChatHost:

and then I can pass your message along to Ioan!

12:02

GlobalPost:

Great. So first question:

12:02

GlobalPost:

How is the California referendum viewed in Mexico?

12:02

Ioan-Grillo:

There are mixed feelings here

12:03

Ioan-Grillo:

President Felipe Calderon and the government have come out against it.

12:03

Ioan-Grillo:

They see it as undermining the war on drugs.

12:04

Ioan-Grillo:

But other critics see it as part of a solution to the whole problem.

12:05

GlobalPost:

How do Calderon and the government want the US to contribute to the war on drugs?

12:05

Ioan-Grillo:

The Mexican government always brings up the issue of American guns.

12:06

Ioan-Grillo:

More than 80 percent of the guns seized from cartels are traced to American gun stores.

12:06

Ioan-Grillo:

The Mexican government also complains about American demand for drugs

12:08

Ioan-Grillo:

But they feel they have spent so much fighting traffic that legalization would somehow undermine that.

12:08

Ioan-Grillo:

It is a similar position to the DEA in that sense.

12:08

Ioan-Grillo:

They have put so much into the battle they don't want to stop it.

12:09

GlobalPost:

Is there an argument that legalization would help stop the drug war?

12:09

Ioan-Grillo:

Yes definitely.

12:09

Ioan-Grillo:

If drugs are legal then Mexican drug gangs cannot make 30 billion dollars trafficking them to Americans

12:10

Ioan-Grillo:

However, that would mean full legalization.

12:10

Ioan-Grillo:

More often we are seeing decriminalization of use but traffic is still in the hands of the drug mafia.

12:10

GP-ChatHost:

Just a reminder to the audience, if you have a question for Ioan, please message me, GP-ChatHost, by pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE." without the quotes

12:11

GlobalPost:

The legalization movement focuses on marijuana

12:11

GlobalPost:

Not harder drugs like cocaine and heroin

12:11

GlobalPost:

How much would legalizing pot cut into profits? Or do harder drugs count for a lot of that?

12:12

Ioan-Grillo:

It is very hard to know the real profits of each drug.

12:12

Ioan-Grillo:

Because it is an illegal industry.

12:12

Ioan-Grillo:

I am cynical of many of the studies.

12:12

Ioan-Grillo:

They are are only estimates - or guestimates.

12:13

Ioan-Grillo:

Marijuana is clearly worth billions to cartels.

12:13

Ioan-Grillo:

This week they seized 130 tons of marijuana in Tijuana.

12:13

Ioan-Grillo:

That is 130 million grams of weed.

12:14

Ioan-Grillo:

And that is right over the border from Tijuana.

12:14

GlobalPost:

Mexico recently changed its own drugs laws

12:14

GlobalPost:

Can you talk a little about that? Is there any sway between the legalization movements in the two countries?

12:15

Ioan-Grillo:

Mexico only decriminalized drug use.

12:15

Ioan-Grillo:

That is very different from what California is proposing.

12:16

Ioan-Grillo:

It didn't make a huge difference here

12:16

Ioan-Grillo:

It just stopped police arresting - and extorting people 0 for small amounts of drugs.

12:16

Ioan-Grillo:

However, the U.S. reaction was interesting.

12:16

Ioan-Grillo:

Mexico tried the same thing in 2006.

12:16

Ioan-Grillo:

And the White House waded in.

12:17

Ioan-Grillo:

They said it would be dangerous to have no punishment for drugs so close to the U.S. border.

12:18

Ioan-Grillo:

However, when Mexico passed the law in 2009, the Obama government said nothing.

12:18

Ioan-Grillo:

That encouraged people in the drug policy reform movement.

12:18

GP-ChatHost:

We have a question from a member of the audience:

12:18

GP-ChatHost:

Rumsfeld: Legalizing drugs is a slippery slope, what do we do next legalizechild pornography to make that an above ground industry. That isn't a long term solution. What are the alternatives?

12:19

Ioan-Grillo:

The alternative to legalization is to raise the fight.

12:19

Ioan-Grillo:

Some critics say that if Mexico's police were improved.

12:20

Ioan-Grillo:

And if they went after corruption and money laundering more.

12:20

Ioan-Grillo:

They could get the upper hand on the cartels.

12:20

Ioan-Grillo:

People look at Colombia.

12:20

Ioan-Grillo:

Where the power of cartels has been reduced.

12:20

Ioan-Grillo:

Even though there is still a lot of movement of cocaine.

12:21

GP-ChatHost:

Here is another one from the audience:

12:21

GP-ChatHost:

Legalize: Dude, with elections coming up in Mexico, is there a serious push to, like, legalizeit as a way to stop the violence?

12:21

Ioan-Grillo:

The legalization movement in Mexico is still in its infancy.

12:22

Ioan-Grillo:

But there are some big voices joining it.

12:22

Ioan-Grillo:

Recently, former President Vicente Fox said that drug legalization was the only way to stop cartels.

12:23

Ioan-Grillo:

As President (2000 to 2006) he had promised the "mother of all battles" against cartels.

12:23

Ioan-Grillo:

Former President Zedillo (1994 to 2000) is also in favor of drug policy reform.

12:24

GlobalPost:

Since the escalation of the war, there's been about 30,000 drug-related deaths

12:24

GlobalPost:

We have a question from our audience about the effect of this

12:24

GP-ChatHost:

milesahead: Hi, Mr. Grillo. What's the likely long term outcome of the Mexican government's fight against the drug lords? History would seem to suggest that a state -- with enough time, energy, resources, and firepower -- will eventually win. Is this what will happen in Mexico, in due time?

12:25

Ioan-Grillo:

It is hard to define victory.

12:25

Ioan-Grillo:

A sustained battle with drug cartels could carry on for years.

12:26

Ioan-Grillo:

There can be more and more killings, and more attacks on police and officials,

12:26

Ioan-Grillo:

Perhaps if the level of violence could be reduced to levels of say 2005 or 2006.

12:27

Ioan-Grillo:

When there were some 2,000 killings per year related to drugs.

12:27

Ioan-Grillo:

That would now be a kind of victory.

12:27

Ioan-Grillo:

It would be back to a criminal problem rather than a problem actually threatening the state.

12:27

Ioan-Grillo:

But there are few signs of such a reduction anytime soon.

12:28

Ioan-Grillo:

This year is the bloodiest on record.

12:28

GlobalPost:

Have there been any positive signs of late?

12:28

Ioan-Grillo:

There have certainly been big raids and big busts.

12:28

Ioan-Grillo:

The most recent was the 130 tons of marijuana ssiezed this week in Tijuana.

12:29

Ioan-Grillo:

Just over the border from California.

12:30

Ioan-Grillo:

There have also been many capos arrested this year.

12:31

GP-ChatHost:

Here is another question for you, Ioan:

12:31

GP-ChatHost:

gstout: Wouldn't legalization at this point allow people who have committed atrocities to go unpunished and in fact become 1st class citizens of mexico with tremendous wealth and power?

12:31

Ioan-Grillo:

That is an interesting point.

12:32

Ioan-Grillo:

Would major criminals such as "Chapo" Guzman be able to convert their money into legitimate fortunes.

12:32

Ioan-Grillo:

Many Americans made money in prohibition and use that to start empires that are still powerful today.

12:33

Ioan-Grillo:

Legalization would be a complicated process from that point of view.

12:33

Ioan-Grillo:

Old indictments made when drugs were illegal would probably still stand.

12:33

Ioan-Grillo:

But we are very far away from any of this.

12:34

Ioan-Grillo:

So far, we are just talking about one drug in one U.S. state.

12:34

GlobalPost:

We are out of time

12:34

GlobalPost:

Thanks to everyone who joined in today

12:34

GlobalPost:

And thanks to Ioan

 

12:34

GlobalPost:

Please check the Membership website for news about our next chat

12:34

GlobalPost:

We hope to see you there!

12:35

Ioan-Grillo:

Thanks much. All best.