Clarity and confusion

Luis Rubio

The proposal of Enrique de la Madrid makes it imperative to discuss the matter: recognize the reality and make our tourist destinations safer by removing one of the causes of insecurity, the one caused by the illicit and highly violent market of drugs, especially marijuana. The mere mention of a proposal as serious, but controversial in our political environment, has led to connect two things that have no connection, at least not the one the critics of the security strategy started a decade ago claim.

There are two relevant issues: on the one hand, the liberalization of the drug market and its potential effects; on the other, the potential links between security and drugs. These are two distinct issues that, although obviously linked, follow different dynamics: the factors that regulate the functioning of the drug market, whether legal or illegal, are not what determine the behavior of the drug trafficking mafias and their peers in organized crime in general.

The starting point is obvious because only now has an authority dared to say it: the consumption of drugs in Mexico exists and is easy to access. That is, although drugs are prohibited, there is a market in which it is easy to buy some drugs, especially marijuana.

The countries that have walked the path of legalization offer valuable lessons: when liberalizing, consumption increases because the previously existing, but unrecognized, market becomes transparent. These experiences show that the risks associated with consumption decrease because the product becomes standardized (eliminating toxic substances that are often associated with the black market), as well as that, this now being an open and legal market, the violence and risk inherent to the process of acquiring the product disappears. In other words, the advantages and virtues of liberalization in terms of consumption are obvious.

The problem of international references is that they are not very relevant to the  Mexican reality in a crucial aspect: all the significant experiences, starting with the Netherlands, Uruguay and more recently Colorado and California, presuppose the existence of a government capable of regulating the market that is now liberalized. In all these cases, the government has assumed the role of supervisor that ensures the quality of the product, the limits to consumption and the requirements that the consumer must meet, especially age.

When one assumes the existence of a functional government, capable of supervising a market and maintaining the safety of citizens, the discussion about drugs acquires an essentially moral nature: either the government must take care of the health of the citizens or it is the responsibility of the citizens themselves to take care of their own lives. That is an essentially philosophical discussion that quickly acquires an ideological connotation that generally becomes impossible to break.

In Mexico we are peculiar because we have a double moral regarding drugs or a great confusion regarding the relationship between these and safety. The discussion about liberalization generally supposes that public order would be restored as soon as the ban was removed. And there lies the fallacy of the drug-security binomial.

My position is that drugs, at least marijuana, should be legalized, but not under the expectation that this would solve the problem of security. Undoubtedly, the elimination of rents (excessive profits) enjoyed by drug mafias would reduce their power and, therefore, help to balance the relationship between police and gangsters. However, beyond the immediate space (it is certainly possible to improve security in a neighborhood or city), the relevant market for these purposes is not the local one, but the American one, and the most important one is not that of marijuana (of which Mexico exports ever less), but that of the most profitable drugs for the cartels, such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

It is crucial to recognize that Mexico’s problem is not drugs, corruption or violence per se, but the absence of government and that absence is due to two factors: one, that the centralized political system of yesteryear was created a century ago and nothing has been done to adjust it to the era of political decentralization. In one word, the now very powerful governors have not built police, judicial and administrative capacity to improve the lives of their citizens. The other cause of the security problems is due to the enormous power that the mafias derive from their billionaire businesses in another country. Thus, the liberalization of drugs in Mexico would not change the dynamics of the cartels or affect the industries of kidnapping, extortion and theft.

Therefore, the insecurity stems from the absence of government and the enormous power (corrupting and violence) of the mafias and that would not be affected more than marginally by the legalization of marijuana in Mexico. We must discuss these two issues -drugs and safety- as two independent matters and be honest about the urgency of attending each of them in their proper dimension. Liberalizing marijuana is necessary, but it is not a panacea.