Nonetheless, in an interview on December 14, Obama made three path-breaking statements. First, he said that enforcing federal marijuana legislation in Colorado and Washington was not a priority of his administration; he had “other fish to fry.” Second, he reiterated his own opposition to legalization, but then added: “at this point.” For the first time, a sitting US president hinted at a possible, perhaps even likely, change of future policy. Finally, Obama advocated holding a “national conversation” on the question of state versus federal legislation on such issues. The importance of these statements cannot be overestimated.
The third change in recent months occurred in one of the world’s largest drug-supplying countries: Mexico, through which practically all of the illegal drugs shipped to the US – cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines – must pass. On December 1, Enrique Peña Nieto succeeded Felipe Calderón as President. As happens almost everywhere, the transition became a moment to scrutinize the outgoing government’s policies, even if the new administration does not intend to modify those policies in the short term. Fortunately for Mexico, history seems to be judging Calderón’s “war on drugs” severely.
Indeed, The Washington Post reported in late November that internal government documents, made available to its Mexico City correspondent, showed that more than 25,000 people disappeared during Calderón’s six-year term, in addition to the roughly 60,000 deaths directly linked to the drug war. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch wrote a public letter to the new president, asking what he intends to do about the thousands of missing Mexicans. Then, in a series of leaks and explicit statements, the new government pointed out the previous policies’ high legal, bureaucratic, and financial costs, and that many more crimes of all types were committed, despite sharply higher spending on law enforcement and security.
In short, the most recent emblem of the traditional, internationally imposed drug-enforcement approach, based on punitive and prohibitionist policies, is turning out to be a catastrophic failure, costing Mexico dearly while producing no results for the country, the rest of Latin America, or the US. Consequently, the main advocates of this approach (Calderón, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the current and former presidents of Brazil, and America’s conservatives and security establishment) are losing public support. Proponents of a different strategy (Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Otto Peréz Molina of Colombia and Guatemala, respectively, among others), based on public-health premises and legalization, are gaining ground.