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Associated Press
Mexico's presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto, of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the AP offices in Mexico City, Monday, April 23, 2012. Pena Nieto says he's against legalizing drugs as a method to fight trafficking in a country plagued by violence. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's presidential front-runner opposes legalizing drugs, saying in an interview Monday that the idea is too "simplistic" to fight narcotics trafficking in the violence-plagued country.

Enrique Pena Nieto said allowing the use of so-called soft drugs would only open the door to abusing harder substances.

"So far no one has convinced me that this is the solution," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It seems to be the answer for those who don't see another way to reduce violence. But I favor a debate and evaluating the arguments people are making about the subject in different parts of the world."

Pena Nieto, who as governor of Mexico's most populous state was considered a pragmatist focusing on public works, said he would focus as president on reducing violence over fighting drug cartels.

The 45-year-old candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party said he would strengthen police, create a single state police force and fight money-laundering — the same methods as President Felipe Calderon, whose conservative National Action Party is trailing Pena Nieto heading toward the July 1 national elections.

Pena Nieto couldn't name one major distinction between his security strategy and Calderon's, saying only that the government's offensive against organized crime hasn't produced the necessary results. More than 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon launched his attack upon taking office in December 2006.

"I would be about results," Pena Nieto said. "We have to look at the policies and make some adjustments in the objectives."

He added that he would at least start out following the Merida Initiative, the U.S. plan that has dedicated more than $1 billion in equipment and training to Mexico to fight organized crime.

Pena Nieto's party, known as the PRI, seeks to regain the presidency it lost in 2000 after 71 years in power. He leads in opinion polls by double digits ahead of the PAN candidate as well as the leftist leader who narrowly lost the presidency to Calderon in 2006.

He would not set a specific goal or percentage for reducing violence, saying only that the resources have been insufficient and need to be increased in the same manner that allowed Colombia to break up its major drug cartels.

"Coordination between federal and state forces has been absent, or at least insufficient. I'm sure given the proper investment needed to combat organized crime, we will get better results in the short and midterm," he said.

Pena Nieto said his main objective as president would be to strengthen the economy, a subject with which he is more specific.