US drug legislation to slow Mexico violence?

mexico drug war marijuana hbtv hemp beach tvThe Texas Legislature meets in January but House Bill 184 is already filed and seeks to soften penalties for marijuana possession.

Filed by Texs State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), the bill would reduce possession of one ounce of marijuana to just a Class C misdemeanor.

That’s a $500 dollar fine and no jail time and reportedly enough marijuana to make between 14 to 28 hand-rolled cigarettes.

Action 4 Mews spoke via Skype to Josh Schimberg with the Texas chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The Austin-based group favors full legalization but Schimberg says the HB 184 is a step in the right direction.

“We are under no illusions that full decriminalization is gonna come to Texas any time soon,” Schimberg said. “We just hope that this bill gets traction and maybe possibly gets passed.”

Valley Reaction

House Bill 184 is being touted as a way save money for courts and police departments and a way to reduce overcrowding in jails.

In the Rio Grande Valley, that’s something that Rene Jaime can agree with.

Jaime owns the Dark Secrets Smoke Shop in Brownsville.

He supports the bill.

“As a taxpayer myself, I see them putting out money to get that guy a free lawyer and a free meal while all the time in jail,” I want that money in my pocket…”

Jaime says police should go after felonies and take harder drugs like cocaine, crack and heroin off the streets.

“I see young kids and old people who get addicted with one try,” he said. “Those are the drugs that one really needs to get off the streets.”

Lobbying Efforts

Back in Austin, Schimberg said supporters of the bill will be meeting with lawmakers in the Texas State Capitol.

It’s an uphill battle in a Republican-controlled legislature, but the Texas Democratic Party already has the legalization of marijuana as part of their 2012 statewide platform.

Schimberg said it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the state gets on the same the page.

“If you wanna protect children from marijuana, the best to do with it is to legalize it and put it behind a store front and ask for ID,” he said.

Valley Lawmakers

Action 4 News attempted to reach the Rio Grande Valley’s eight state representatives on Friday.

Most comment be reached for comment.

But the Valley’s lone Republican lawmaker Aaron Peña (R-Edinburg) said the bill or similar ones are introduced every legislative session.

Peña said the bill will have a tough battle without a component to send users to rehab or other drug treatment programs.

“If you’re going to make a judgment based on the past, it’s not likely to pass,” Peña said. “However, there is a growing awareness that we need to empty our jails of minor drug offenders and divert them to treatment.”

Despite those comments, Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Melon University and expert on the drug trade, says it’s unlikely the Nieto administration will make significant reforms in its drug war policy as a result of US marijuana policy.

“By most measures the majority of the drug problem in both the US and Mexico does not relate to marijuana, so nothing you’re going to do with marijuana is very likely to decisively change the character of the overall drug policy situation.”

Caulkins says it’s more likely the Nieto administration is concerned about the violence as a result of the trafficking as opposed to which drug is being trafficked.

“When you’re the source or trans-shipment country it makes no difference whether the drug is a soft drug or a hard drug when it’s leading to homicides. When the traffickers shoot a police officer it really doesn’t matter whether the traffickers are trafficking marijuana or cocaine.” Caulkins says Nieto’s comments about US marijuana legalisation could be aimed at getting Washington to give him some political leeway in doing some rethinking about how Mexico fights its drug war.

Future impact

It’s doubtful Nieto would do anything to jeapordise the Merida Initiative, a US security assistance programme that has given Mexico about $1.6bn since 2008 to crackdown on drug gangs.

However, he is promising to take a new approach by refocusing on preventing drug gang murders, kidnappings and extortion – violent crimes that target ordinary citizens.

Nieto has acknowledged that targeting drug gangs and their leadership structure has led to the fragmentation of the drug cartels setting off violent turf wars.

“In general, change in a criminal context tends to promote violence,” says Humphreys. “So if you go in on a street sweep and arrest the guys who have five street corners you often see a spike of violence because everyone who’s left wants those street corners. There could be in the short term an uptick of trouble.”

The US referendums might not significantly affect violence in Mexico, but they could have other implications.

“The reality of the [Colorado and Washington] votes does make it easier for people to do the rethinking and it’s not going to be just Mexico,” says Caulkins.

“Possibly Central American countries are going to be asking the same thing. Uruguay is proceeding with an attempt to legalise low level sales to their own citizens. I think they will be less likely to get push back from the United States given that two US states have legalised.”

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