Mexico : Drug Decrim and the 10,000-Ton Monkey

Pot smoker in Mexico City. Mexicans consume an estimated 342 tons of marijuana a year. Photo by Castillo / AP.

Legalization is the only answer…
Mexico’s massive drug problem

As poet Juan Pablo Garcia posited long ago in his 1985 Pacheco (marijuana user) Manifesto: ‘drugs don’t make us criminals but laws against drugs do.’

By John Ross / The Rag Blog / November 9, 2009

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has a 10,000 ton monkey on its back and its name is Washington D.C.

While U.S. drug enforcers gloat that 15-foot walls, high tech sensors, drones, blimps, spotter planes and rampant militarization have put a significant dent in the flow of cocaine across its porous southern border, drug use escalates exponentially south of that border. The reason: Colombian-Mexican cartels are now holding their loads longer in Mexico, waiting for the appropriate arrangements to be made to move the blow into El Norte.

Inevitably, the cocaine and to a lesser extent crystal meth and heroin (marijuana is readily available in the U.S., the world’s largest producer of the weed) leak into the Mexican street where fierce competition for sales and consumption is out of control. As a result, over 13,000 lives have been lost since President Felipe Calderon went to war with the drug cartels in December 2006, many of them in turf battles over trans-shipment routes and retail sales in Mexican cities.

Moreover, in the three years of Calderon’s drug war, which is being underwritten by $3,000,000,000 in Washington’s Merida Initiative funds, the number of “addicts” on this side of the border has risen by 460,000 and now totals almost a million, according to the estimates provided by the National Council on Addictions, and first-time users have jumped from 3.5 million to 4.5 million — some drug experts calculate that 10 million would be closer to the mark, depending on definitions of “user” and “addict.” One dangerous corollary: the Mexican prison system is bursting apart at the seams and lethal violence is on the rise.

Among long-time observers of Mexican drug wars, there are some, this writer included, who suspect that Washington’s militarization of the border and the consequent user boom here was a well-thought out strategy concocted by U.S. drug fighters to force its proxies in this distant neighbor nation to engage and confront the cartels. Viewed from this perspective, the thousands of dead on the ground here are simply cannon fodder in the U.S. War on Drugs initiated by Richard Nixon in 1969, officially declared by Ronald Reagan in 1985, and zealously executed by four U.S. presidents ever since. Barack Obama, a prohibitionist who likens Felipe Calderon to Al Capone’s nemesis Elliot Ness, is only the latest puppet-master in this grotesque dance of death.

Partners in the Drug War: Presidents Calderon and Obama.

With jails exploding — prison riots are reported at least once a week — the Calderon administration has moved to tamp down dangerous overcrowding by “decriminalizing” the possession of small quantities of illicit drugs. This past August 21st, the Mexican president signed off on legislation that gives users and “addicts” (as health officers prefer to lump them) the option of treatment or prison if arrested with small amounts of drugs for personal use — two grams of marijuana (about four skinny joints), a half gram of cocaine, 40 milligrams of meth amphetamines, and 10 milligrams of heroin. Instead of immediate imprisonment, the drugs will be confiscated and the user/addict booked and fingerprinted and their biometrics recorded in a national registry of “addicts.”

Those pulled in are then released with the obligation of enrollment in government treatment programs that are still not operational. If the user/addict fails to show up for treatment or is arrested a third time, prison time is prescribed.

Those nabbed with larger amounts, calculated at a thousand times the minimum quantities, are automatically assigned to terminally overcrowded state prisons as “traffickers” — “traffickers” arrested with any amount over the higher quantities are sent to maximum security federal penitentiaries as kingpins.

There is no middle ground in this schema notes science writer Javier Flores in the national daily La Jornada: one is either a user/addict or a narcotraficante.

The Mexican congress passed similar legislation in 2006 during the waning days of Vicente Fox’s presidency but when the measure hit his desk, the red telephone rang and George W. Bush was on the line threatening grave repercussions if Fox did not veto the decrim bill – which, of course, he did.

What has decrim meant on the streets of Mexico City? A few weeks ago, my friend Xochi (not her real name), a street dealer who makes house calls, and this writer visited a sick friend — Xochi brought along a bag of medicinal marijuana and I some cannabis cookies. The conversation turned to Calderon’s recently promulgated decrim and we consulted our offerings to determine if we were users, “addicts,” or kingpins. It goes without saying that we were criminally over the limit but fortunately the local gendarmes did not bust down the door.

According to Xochi, decrim is turning into a bonanza for Mexico City cops who have taken to carrying scales to weigh confiscated drugs and shaking down those “criminals” who exceed the decreed limits. Shaking down small-time users and dealers is nothing new in this the most corrupt, crime-ridden, and conflictive city in the western hemisphere. Indeed, crooked cops have been planting drugs on unwary citizens as long as cops have patrolled these mean streets. Long before decrim was a gleam in Calderon’s eye, those “found” with drugs in their possession did not immediately go straight to jail if they could come up with the “mordida” (literally “bite” or bribe) to get the cops off their backs.

As poet Juan Pablo Garcia posited long ago in his 1985 Pacheco (marijuana user) Manifesto: “drugs don’t make us criminals but laws against drugs do.”

Overwhelmed by millions of users, addicts, narcotraffickers, and kingpins, Calderon has turned to God for relief. Young people who use drugs do not have God in their (miserable) lives, he explained to Catholic bishops attending a family crisis conference last month, citing the recent death of pop idol Michael Jackson as an example — although there is no evidence that Jacko did not believe in God or was even a user/addict (the official autopsy concluded that Michael was overdosed by a doctor with a lethal anesthetic.)

The president’s hypothesis was promptly shot down on editorial and op-ed pages all over the country. Aside from increased availability in Mexico thanks to Washington’s worldwide crusade against demon drugs, critics pinned the dramatic increase in users-“addicts” on a battered economy in which more than 2,000,000 workers have lost their jobs in the past year as a more pertinent explanation of the boom. With nearly a million young people entering the job market each year, Calderon, who once billed himself as “the president of employment,” has floundered badly as a job creator. On the other hand, drug cropping and retail street dealing (“narcominudeo“) provide gainful employment for millions of kids without jobs.

Prison riots are reported at least once a week. This one, in Tijuana on Sept. 18, 2009, left 19 killed and a dozen wounded.

In fact, there are multiple indicators that drug users, dealers, “addicts”, and kingpins do have God in their (miserable) lives. “We, the Marijuanos, are Guadalupanos (devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe) not goddamn communist whores,” Juan Pablo Garcia wrote in his Pacheco Manifesto. Narcotraficantes are celebrated for their devotion to their faith, buying Masses, hiring priests for baptisms and weddings and funerals and even building churches. Drug money — “narco-limosnas” (drug alms) are a significant component of Church finances, concedes Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, president of the Mexican Bishops Conference (CEM.) For the Catholic Church, explains Aguascalientes bishop Ramon Godinez, turning illegitimate gains into good works is perfectly pardonable.

Although cocaine and meth (Mexico does not produce much heroin) are considered to be killer drugs, reefer madness is alive and kicking south of the border. Mexicans consume 357 tons of drugs annually, advances Secretary of Public Security Genero Garcia Luna, of which marijuana accounts for 343. Marijuana is considered a dangerous drug by crusaders like Garcia Luna and his boss Calderon and those who use it are considered “addicts” in need of “treatment” — actually Mexican marijuana is typically punchless and low in THC content when compared to hot house-grown, high-potency strains in the U.S. where cannabis is considered to be medicinal in some states. What makes treatment propositions even more absurd is that there are no treatment centers to accommodate newly decriminalized pot smokers.

For hard-core addicts desperate to get off the crack pipe or the needle, public detox clinics have been stripped back to the bone. While wealthy user/”addicts” sign themselves into deluxe spas to detox, the poor have few options. Like every other public service the Calderon government is charged with providing, drug treatment has been privatized under the prevailing neoliberal economic model.

Evangelical churches run treatment programs in many working class colonies that force addicts to go cold turkey. Corporal punishment and the Word of God are means of coercion to get young people off drugs.

The drug gangs themselves run their own treatment programs for street dealers that get hooked on the goods they push according to one Ciudad Juarez pistolero Julio Cesar Aleman, a member of a hit squad known as “The Artists of Assassination,” enforcers for the Sinaloa cartel, who are charged by federal authorities with a total of 45 killings — 28 of them at two treatment homes in that Gran Guignol border city. La Linea (a rival drug gang) gets them off drugs, fattens them up, and sends them back out on the street to deal,” he explained to police agents to justify the homicidal assaults.

Decriminalizing drugs in a country through which 80% of the U.S. cocaine supply passes (Drug Enforcement Administration estimates) changes little in Mexico so long as it borders the biggest drug market on the planet. Even as decrim takes root north of the border, more than 800,000 Americans were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2008 according to Ethan Nadelman of the Drug Policy Institute. Legalization and not decrim is the only answer.

Drug reform is catching on in Latin America. In addition to Mexico’s feeble and misplaced efforts at providing alternatives to incarceration, Argentina courts recently ruled that personal possession of marijuana is not criminal. In Colombia, decriminalization of small amounts of cocaine has been the law since the 1990s. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales champions the medicinal properties of the coca leaf, the source of powdered cocaine, and endorses the industrialization of the plant. At a 2008 drug policy conference in Brazil, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo, the squarest Mexican president to ever administrate the affairs of this country, declared that the prohibitionist approach had failed.

So has decrim. The 10,000-ton monkey is not going to get off Mexico’s back until drugs are legalized everywhere in the Americas, including the United States. As the godfather of Jamaican ganja reggae Peter Tosh croons “Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it, even judges smoke it, and lawyers too: Legalize It! Don’t Criticize It! Legalize It! Don’t Criminalize It!”

Or decriminalize it either.

[John Ross will present his just-published (Nation Books) cult classic, the monstrous El Monstruo — Dread & Redemption in Mexico City, Friday the 13th at Northtown Books in Arcata, CA (7 p.m.); Wednesday, Nov. 18th at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco’s Mission District (7 PM); and Nov. 19th at UC-Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Studies (3:30 PM.) Admission to all three events is gratis.]

The Rag Blog

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18 Responses to Mexico : Drug Decrim and the 10,000-Ton Monkey

  1. Here in Texas we have a program called “Adopt a Highway” In this program a group of civic minded folks go out a clean up a stretch of highway several times a year. This helps promote civic pride, a sense of community and makes our highways cleaner. Citizens take responsibility instead of depending on the government to do it.

    I propose something similar for the Southern border with Mexico. Call it “Adopt a Fence”. In this program a group of security minded patriots go out on patrol along a stretch of the US/Mexico border several times a year. Any illegal aliens, drug smugglers or gang bangers that are encountered are cleaned up. This helps promote civic pride, a sense of community and reduces the number of known law breakers in our midst. Citizens learn to take care of their security and country and begin to wean themselves from the idea that Washington should do so.

  2. Richard says:

    Oh boy, DHS Vigilantes, that ought to enhance Justice. What about that there Constitution you were babbling about the other day? Will you be a leader of that too? Why do we even bother to have sworn officers is we can just do it ourselves? And what does your comment have to do with John Ross’s article? Do you read them before you comment?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sadly, all the substances that alter a person’s clear thinking and accurate perception, are not illegal.

    Booze/liquor causes just as much (or more) violence than pot does and the sum total of all these things that people take to alter their personalities merely enhance their criminal tendencies, thus crime comes with not only the substances that create ‘monsters’, but so do the guns and knives and other weapons that give them the idea they can carry out their crimes.

    On top of that, we’re led to believe it’s okay to kill ‘the enemy’ while we’re wearing a military uniform, but it’s not okay if we’re not wearing one.

    You have to have a criminal mind and personality first, and only the drugs and devices of death and harm add to the confidence that the criminal mind can carry it out.

  4. Thanks for the comments Richard. I think you failed to grasp my comment.

    1) I didn’t suggest that we become a nation of vigilantes. I didn’t suggest that we take the law into our own hands and mete out punishment without due process. I didn’t suggest that these patrols be armed, though i see no reason why they couldn’t be. My thought would be to alert the appropriate agency to the threats detected so they could act, or to perform a citizen’s arrest if a crime was witnessed and it was safe to do so. Those tasks are not only constitutional, but in keeping with the founders, especially Madison’s, vision of citizen militias.

    2) I read John Ross’s article quite carefully. I am not in a position to determine how much of his writing is accurate though I suspect many of his facts are correct. Mexico is on the fast track to being a failed state where the government shares power with narco-terrorists. I am not particularly concerned with the plight of the Mexican people. They have the government they have allowed to exist and the consequences of rampant corruption is theirs to bear. I do care greatly that such violence not be allowed to cross the border. Hence the reason for my post.

    3) Your comment that Why do we even bother to have sworn officers is we can just do it ourselves? speaks for itself. Our federal officials intentionally don’t defend our Southern border and they make no secret about it or apologies for it. I think a time is fast approaching when many more able bodied men and women will take up their constitutional rights to join and form state citizen militias. This is not vigilantism. This is not lynching. This is not acting as judge jury and executioner. This is what the founders intended to occur when the central government failed to perform the duties it was created for.

  5. Anonymous says:

    On this one I think you are very naive.
    To interfere with drug trafficking and try a “citizen’s arrest” is very dangerous; best left to Federal agencies.

  6. Pollyanna says:

    There are a number of “citizens groups” alrady operating along the US-Mexico border, particularly, I believe, the Arizona.

    They bring nothing but grief and trouble to local and federal law enforcement. Really, DHS, “cleaning up the problem”, as you suggests, hardly brings to mind a peaceful encounter! (Unless you are literally talking about a program similar to Adopt-A-Highway, with people going out in the desert to provide recycling and trash-disposal facilities and regular clean-ups; that would be, ummm, really nice?)

  7. Extremist — If you write anything else along the lines of your first comment above, it will be removed. It is implicitly racist and certainly reads as if you are suggesting vigilante violence.

    Once again, we are open to discussion from all points of view, but we will not tolerate hate speech. I will be checking comments more carefully in the future.

    Thorne Dreyer

  8. Thorne, i appreciate your point of view but I must disagree. I think I have a simple way of putting this in perspective so you can see the truth of it.

    When you leave your home for the day,or leave your car or bike in a parking lot, I suspect you, like most of us, lock your doors or otherwise secure them.

    You dont do that becaause your racist, or anti social, or hate other, at least I dont. I cant imagine anyone does. In fact you may be quite comfortable sharing your home, or car, or bike with others. What it means is that you want to be in control of with whom and when you allow the house/car/bike to be shared.

    Our national borders are like that. I am all in favor of fairly liberal immigration policies. But I also want the US to reserve the right to enfore those policies by securing the border and controlling access. Especially when a lot of violent people want to cross the border for unsavory reasons.I dont think that is much different than you do when you lock the door to your home. The Federal government has failed miserably in that effort.

    I think that the fact that you view something that straigtforward as racist, says more about your views than it does about mine.

  9. Anonymous says:


    “a program called “Adopt a Highway” In this program a group of civic minded folks go out a clean up a stretch of highway several times a year”
    Perhaps you do not have the intent,but what you say hints at “ethnic cleansing”.

  10. Anonymous, thanks for the info. I never even considered that when I wrote the original post, but I can see what your saying.

    The citizens of Mexico, for reasons that I dont fully understand, have allowed their country to arrive at a point where the government no longer provides fair and trustworthy law enforecment or courts. The safety of Mexican citizens is greatly compromised.

    I claim my right as a citizen to demand that my government enforce our borders and fairly maintain our nations immigration policies. Neither of those are racist ideas. In fact they are noble goals that will prevent an outcome like we are seeing in Mexico. I claim the same right to demand that my government control its spending so our fiscal solvency is not threatened. That is just common sense.

  11. Anonymous says:

    DHS: I suspect you would be a supporter of globalization and NAFTA. It is that treaty and concept which has collapsed certain portions of the Mexican economy, notably agriculture (i.e., small farmers) resulting in desperation that leads folks south of the border to take dramatic measures to try to survive. Oh great free market supporter, reap your reward. And I do think you are racist.

  12. The people in Mexico didnt demand accountability from their government and turned a blind eye to corruption as long as it benefited them. You seem desperate to find someone or something to blame their predicament on.

    In the US,I and millions more like me are demanding more accountabiliyt from our governmemt and wont settle for pandering or lip service.

    “Racist” no longer has much meaning after so many have casually tossed around the word when they couldn’t make any other argument.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I truly admire the american patience.
    In other words, Extremist :
    What the hell are you’re doing out here ? Don’t you have better things to do ? How about watching Fox News ? Keeping watching on the Mexican border ? Entering a militia ? Reading Bush’s memoirs ? Anything but distill your poison on this blog.
    Don’t tell anyone, but The Rag Blog is brought to you by the miracle of functioning anarchy from the progressive front.
    I won’t try to make you understand how anarchy can work or the meaning of ‘progressive’.
    Why don’t you claim your right to be a nut in front of the White House ?
    But please, stop polluting this place.

  14. Anonymous says:

    DHS sure makes a lot of grammatical and spelling errors!

  15. Fed Up says:

    Extremist, what you don’t seem to understand is that the employers are never going to secure the border because they greatly benefit from the cheap labor and having working people here illegally who have no rights. In this world there is nothing evil about a secure border, but you are just not going to get that. You are very naieve to think you will.

    If the working people in America were stronger, we would help those workers and organize them ourselves, to protect them and us, but we are weak and racist and cannot even take care of ourselves!

    So given all that, you have a human choice: I say DO NOT HURT THEM AT ALL, NOT EVEN ONE HAIR ON THIER HEAD, becuuse they are just workers like me, looking for a job. A lot of them, in fact, are working mothers, single mothers, just like me.

    Its a conundrum, certainly is. It is a difficult problem. But what you advocate is that you want to hurt them, and I don’t think decent people can allow that.

    As for the criminals, well, its really stupid to take them on … they will be taken care of, because if there is one thing I know, its that criminals keep other criminals off their turf.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Do you all remember how Nixon and cronies clamped way down on grass (1970-71)? Then for some reason smack suddenly became readily available?
    As I remember lot of folks got really messed up! They just keep doing it (messing us up).

  17. They just keep doing it (messing us up)

    How exctly are “they” responsible for messing us up? If you take personal responsibility for your actions and choices then “they” can’t make you mess up.

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