Yessenia Gutierrez | Legalize it — but don’t forget Latin America

Yessi Can | The United States needs to rethink its stance for the war on drugs

· November 26, 2012, 1:29 am

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Yessenia Gutierrez
Yessi Can

It’s been almost three weeks since Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, allowing its citizens to buy or possess less than an ounce of the drug.

It’s been almost three weeks since the internet exploded with memes about grocery stores in Washington running out of Goldfish and people moving to Colorado.

It’s been almost three weeks and we’re still unsure about the full effect of these votes.

As Maia Szalavitz wrote in Time magazine, “The voters have spoken. Now they’re waiting for the federal government to respond.”

It’s uncertain whether the federal government — which still considers marijuana an illicit drug — will step in to supersede state law. Some journalists think this is unlikely because of the amount of political pressure that’s been directed towards President Obama and United States Attorney General Eric Holder.

Like Timothy Egan of The New York Times, I am tired of the “lame jokes about Cheetos and Cheech and Chong.” These initiatives could signal the start of a new era — a departure from our war on drugs.

Could state initiatives in Colorado and Washington bring about a social revolution? Will we end up treating marijuana like alcohol — regulated but legal? These are strong possibilities, as Rachel Maddow points out, since states still preserve disparate laws on alcohol to this day.

In Washington, for example, the liquor control board will govern the production and sale of marijuana. Add this to the fact that there will be a legal limit for the amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, present in the blood while driving — similar to the blood alcohol content used for alcohol use — and the comparison becomes clear.

What we often forget (and what I was reminded of in my Latin American and Latino Studies courses) is that the United States’ actions have ripples across the world, especially in neighboring Latin America.

We can’t legalize marijuana in Washington and forget that less than 2,500 miles away, a war on drugs is raging in Mexico. The United States is the biggest consumer of drugs across the globe and publicly (read: monetarily) supports the drug crusade in Latin America.

While many of my Facebook friends rejoiced over the progressive mindset in Colorado and Washington, the votes to legalize marijuana complicate the United States’ hardline position on drugs.

As Eric Olson, the associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, told Examiner.com, “There is a sense of frustration throughout Latin America about the steep costs of confronting drug trafficking. And these votes in the United States, and the reaction to them, might signal a willingness for the countries to think outside of the box on drug policy.”

Increasingly, Latin American nations are asking themselves: why should we divert our resources and put the lives of our citizens in danger to wage a war against drugs when Colorado and Washington have voted “Yes”?

Five Latin American presidents — from Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica and my very own Guatemala — have signed a declaration stating that legalizing pot in two states will complicate drug enforcement efforts in the region.

Just a week after the general election in the United States, a Mexican lawmaker introduced a bill to allow the growth, sale and use of marijuana. The bill — which borrows much of the same language as Washington’s law — needs to be on President Obama’s agenda tomorrow when he meets with Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto.

It’s been three weeks. It’s time the United States reviews its position on the war against drugs in Latin America. Otherwise, we’ll continue to lose face and influence in the region as political leaders rebel against seemingly hypocritical drug policies.

Yessenia Gutierrez is a College junior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is gutierrez_y@hotmail.com. “Yessi Can” usually appears every Monday. Follow her @yessiwrites.

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