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“Legalize it” lobby gains strength across Americas

Mexico and other Latin American countries are moving toward drug decriminalization — and Washington isn't complaining.

For decades, the U.S. government pushed hard to pressure Western hemisphere nations to take a hard line on drugs, blocking certain aid programs if it ruled that anti-narcotic efforts were not sufficient.

Furthermore, in 2006 the White House condemned a previous attempt by Mexican lawmakers to decriminalize drugs, leading then-President Vicente Fox to refuse to sign the bill.

However, following Mexico’s new law, the Obama administration has been virtually silent on the issue.

Asked about the upcoming changes in a visit to Mexico in July, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said he would “wait-and-see.” Two months after the law has been enacted he still seems to be waiting and seeing.

“The current administration seems to be taking a much more pragmatic approach to the issue,” said Joe Rogoway, a spokesman for the California Cannabis Initiative, which campaigns for the legalization of marijuana.

Rogoway said the ease with which the Mexican law slipped in has also encouraged anti-prohibition groups north of the Rio Grande.

“It is a positive start in the right direction,” he said. “It is all about harm reduction. And not throwing a drug user in jail definitely helps alleviate any harm to them.”

The group is gaining signatures to put a motion to completely legalize marijuana in California on the ballot in 2010. Under current California law, marijuana is legal for medical use while possession for personal use can be punished with a fine.

However, some groups see the Mexican law and its ripple effects as a step backward rather than forward.

“Decriminalization is clearly a victory for the drug sellers,” said Calvina Fay, the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. “When people are taking drugs they are not innocent victims. They are impacting many lives and they need to be held accountable.”

Fay argues that rather than taking a softer approach, the United States and its Latin American allies should take a harder line on drugs — including more crop spraying and drug testing in schools and work places.

“The mantra that the war on drugs doesn’t work is a big fat lie,” Fay said. “We have made real progress since the 1970s in fighting back drug use. It is crazy to surrender now.”