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Pot Legalization Could Cut Deeply Into Cartel Profits


As Barb mentioned, this week, Colorado and Washington State passed measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. We're going to hear reaction now from the country where much of America's pot is grown, Mexico. The sale, growth, and use of marijuana there remains illegal. And Mexico's incoming government fears these new laws will force them to rethink how they fight cross-border pot smuggling. But others think the measures could help fight narco-trafficking and cut into the cartels' power.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Sitting outside a busy metro stop in Mexico City, 54-year old Margarita Velasco says marijuana should be legal.

MARGARITA VELASCO: (Foreign language spoken)


KAHN: It's like wine. They made that legal, she said. Everyone one should be able to make their own decision about using it. But she says the best part about legalizing marijuana is what it would do to the drug cartels.

VELASCO: (Foreign language spoken)


KAHN: It won't make the narcos rich anymore.

And the hope is the violence that has racked this country for the past six years would cease, too. But in a radio interview, yesterday, the main advisor to incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto reiterated the new administration's opposition to legalization. Luis Videgaray said liberalizing laws in parts of the United States complicates the two country's drug policies and necessitates a review of the bilateral fight against narco-trafficking. The subject with undoubtedly come up when Pena Nieto comes to Washington at the end of month.

Alejandro Hope of the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness, a pro-business think tank, says the new laws in Colorado and Washington also jeopardize drug-fighting treaties the U.S. has signed with other countries. But he adds the topic is being openly debated throughout the region.

ALEJANDRO HOPE: There is a growing consensus in Latin America in favor of something approaching legalization, although no one wants to use that word.

KAHN: Hope authored a recent study that concluded if pot was sold legally in Washington and Colorado, Mexican marijuana cartels could lose up to a quarter of their business, about $1.4 billion. Marijuana accounts for about a third of the cartels' operations.

This whole debate, however, could be moot. Marijuana possession and cultivation remains a federal crime in the U.S.

But back at the busy metro stop, Saul Rojas says he hopes the two U.S. states do get a chance to experiment with legalizing the drug.

SAUL ROJAS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says that way if it works well there, hopefully Mexico will give legalization a chance too.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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