Thursday, September 24, 2009

War On Drugs Conference Pushes for Legalization of Marijuana

War on Drugs conference: Legalize marijuana, participants say

By Ramon Bracamontes / El Paso Times
Posted: 09/23/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO -- Legalizing marijuana in the United States would weaken
Mexico's powerful drug cartels, panelists at a War on Drugs conference
said Tuesday.

"If you take away half of their money, it will hurt them," said William
Martin, a sociology professor at Rice University who studies drug abuse
and government policy. "You are not going to break them, but you will
hurt them."

Martin was one of the speakers at the two-day conference in El Paso that
ended Tuesday. The conference examined America's 40-year-old War on
Drugs and attempted to begin a national discussion on whether marijuana
should be legalized.

Martin said selling marijuana as a legal, controlled product might keep
smokers from trying other drugs.

"If you are not going to a dealer to buy marijuana, you are less likely
to go after harder drugs," he said.

Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy
Alliance, said people should not assume that decriminalizing marijuana
would lead to more people using it. His organization helped push through
a law in California that allows for small amounts of marijuana to be
used for medical purposes.

But he acknowledged that getting people to consider legalization would
be a tough task.

"Talking about the medical marijuana issue is the way to start,"
Nadelmann said. "In California, we had hoped that the medical issue
discussion would lead to talks about legalization, but it hasn't."

El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez said politicians do not
even like to broach the subject of legalizing marijuana because anything
they say will be misconstrued by some voters.

"Even if 75 percent of the people support this, there are still some who
don't," Rodríguez said. "In the atmosphere that we are in, this is
something you don't want to comment on."

During the two-day conference, speaker after speaker said that the
United States was as much to blame for the violence in Juárez as was
the Mexican government. Now that Mexico is trying to rid itself of the
drug cartels that have killed thousands of people in the past 20 months,
the United States should have an honest debate about drug policies that
have done nothing to lessen demand, panelists said.

El Paso city Rep. Beto O'Rourke said those who attended the conference
are now armed with information.

"We can now exert public pressure on our elected officials to develop
public policy that is best for this community because the drug policies
we have now do not work," O'Rourke said. "As evidence, I point to the
3,200 people who have been killed in Juárez."

Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at rbracamontes@ elpasotimes. com;

http://www.elpasoti ci_13397853

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