Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Mexico’s federal secretary of tourism has called for legalizing marijuana in the tourist destinations of Cancun and Los Cabos, to reduce drug violence that claimed a record number of lives nationally last year.
Citing the legalization of marijuana by states in the U.S. including California, Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid said Mexico should follow that example, at least in Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, where Cancun and Los Cabos are respectively located.
“I think it’s absurd that we haven’t taken this step,” de la Madrid said in an interview.
“If it can’t be done nationwide, I would like to see if [marijuana legalization] could be done in Baja California and Quintana Roo, the two principal tourism destinations in Mexico that shouldn’t have to be victims of violence due to an inadequate drug policy.”
Madrid has emphasized he was expressing his personal view and not that of the government.
Government successes in apprehending and arresting several drug cartel leaders in recent years have led to a breakup of cartels and increased battles between them for territory, increasing violence, according to crime experts.
The homicide rate in Mexico reached 29,168 in 2017, an increase of 6,206 over the previous year and the most deaths since 1997 when official records were first taken, according to Marcela Figueroa an investigator with the citizens group Causa en Comun.
The homicide rate shot up from 2016 to 2017 by 117 percent to 359 in Quintana Roo and by 192 percent to 560 in Baja California Sur, she said citing official government records.
“Legalizing marijuana would have to be accompanied by many other things,” Figueroa said. “We don’t think it could resolve the violence but it is an influencing factor. We need better policing, better prosecution and justice.”
Current Mexican law allows possession of less than five grams of marijuana, while its sale is illegal. Marijuana use for medicinal purposes has been approved by the Congress while the necessary regulations for its commercialization haven’t yet been put into place.
A proposal by President Enrique Peña Nieto to increase the legalization of possession to 28 grams was never passed by Congress, Figueroa recalled.
Some 18,000 homicides in Mexico last year were organized crime executions, according to Santiago Roel, director of the citizen crime watch group Semáforo Delictivo Nacional.
Roel charged that 75 percent of Mexico’s drug violence is the result of former President Enrique Calderon’s decision to use the military to capture and prosecute the leaders of Mexico’s drug cartels—as well as Peña Nieto’s continuation of that policy.
“It’s a war imposed by the United States because they have not resolved their drug consumption problem,” he said.
“Last year the U.S. had more than 60,000 deaths due to drug overdoses and instead of recognizing the problem, they are using Mexico as the fall guy.”
In a separate interview, Roel called the tourism secretary’s proposal to legalize marijuana “valiant and intelligent.”
“To continue to prohibit drugs is the worst strategy to deal with the issue,” he said. “You don’t fight markets with bullets. They are fought with economic law.”
Francisco Rivas, director of Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, another major crime watch group in Mexico, said he’s “not so convinced” that legalizing marijuana in Mexico would reduce the violence.
Organized crime, he said, is involved in many illicit activates apart from the cultivation and sale of marijuana, including kidnapping, robbery, extortion and money laundering.
“It’s not a simple thing. If we legalize the use of the drug it can create complications.”
One unintended consequence, Rivas said, is that legalizing marijuana could motivate the drug cartels to produce and sell more synthetic drugs like methamphetamines.
“Crime could turn to these more powerful, cheaper drugs.”
A tourist from Chile was killed and six people were wounded in a shooting at a bar in Acapulco in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The U.S. State Department issued a new warning to travelers last August citing increased violence and homicides in Los Cabos and La Paz in Baja California and Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya, and Tulum in Quintana Roo.