The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana left Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto scrambling to reformulate anti-drug strategies in light of what an aide said was a referendum that “changes the rules of the game,” the Washington Post reports. Peña Nieto will discuss the issue with President Obama and congressional leaders in Washington this month. The legalization votes are expected to spark a broad debate in Mexico about the direction of the U.S.-backed drug war here. Mexico spends billions of dollars each year to fight violent trafficking organizations that threaten the security of the country but whose main market is the U.S., the world’s largest consumer of drugs.
“The legalization of marijuana forces us to think very hard about our strategy to combat criminal organizations, mainly because the largest consumer in the world has liberalized its laws,” said Manlio Fabio Beltrones, leader of Peña Nieto's party in Mexico's Congress. Peña Nieto's top adviser, Luis Videgaray, said his boss did not believe that legalization was the answer. “Obviously, we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status,” Videgaray told a radio station. Videgaray said legalization “changes the rules of the game in the relationship with the United States.” “I think more and more Mexicans will respond in a similar fashion, as we ask ourselves why are Mexican troops up in the mountains [ ] looking for marijuana, and why are we searching for tunnels, patrolling the borders, when once this product reaches Colorado it becomes legal,” said Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico and an advocate for ending an “absurd war.”