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Changes in Mexico's drug war on horizon? Pres-elect Pena Nieto discusses legalization of drugs

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28 2012 12:31 p.m. MST

Mexico's President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto listens as President Barack Obama speaks prior to their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.

Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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In the wake of votes to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, signals from Mexico's president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto suggest he may be looking to change strategies as he works to tackle Mexico's drug violence.

According to a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, a new report by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute showed that November's marijuana votes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado had the potential to cut proceeds for Mexican drug trafficking organizations by up to 30 percent. The Oregon vote failed 55 percent to 45 percent, while the other two passed.

"There is a significant caveat, which is that all of the displacement effects that we describe are contingent on the federal government not clamping down on whichever states decide to legalize," report author Alejandro Hope said.

In a Tuesday interview with Time, Pena Nieto said the legalization votes opens the door for rethinking Mexico's approach to the drug war, which has led to an estimated 60,000 deaths since it was launched in 2006.

"It opens a space for a rethinking of our policy," Pena Nieto said. "It opens a debate about the course the drug war should be taking. It doesn't necessarily mean the Mexican government is suddenly going to change what it's doing now . . . but I am in favor of a hemispheric debate about the effectiveness of the drug-war route we've been on."

Pena Nieto told Time that Mexico will have to consider its marijuana policies if legalization of recreational marijuana has a future beyond Colorado and Washington.

"Personally, I am not in favor of legalization of drugs . . . because it's not just about marijuana. It seems to me that is a gateway through which people will start taking much more harmful drugs," Pena Nieto told CNN in a Tuesday interview. "Seeing which is happening to the state of the American union, the United States, could possibly in the future, in the near future, (lead) to refocusing of the strategy (being) used."

"I'm convinced and I'm open to the debate about issues and to define new strategies in order to combat drug trafficking and drug consumption to combat it. And that has to be reached jointly," Pena Nieto said.

Two days after the Nov. 6 U.S. election, Cesar Duarte, governor of Chihuahua, told Reuters that the Colorado and Washington votes offered a "very clear" hint for how Mexico should approach marijuana.

"It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports," Duarte said. "We would therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals, and which finances criminals."

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