Monday, November 30, 2015

How to go about legalizing cannabis is the question in Mexico (Nov. 30, 2015)

Perhaps the most concrete effect of the recent Supreme Court decision in Mexico allowing four plaintiffs to grow marijuana has been to push the issue onto center stage and make legalization a subject of national political discussion, reports El Daily Post. The paper polled four experts on the subject -- and the debate is raging among the country's pundits and politicians.

SMART -- the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante, the group of four which presented the case in which the Supreme Court permitted them to self-grow on the argument of personal freedom -- developed an integral strategy to bring a case to the court that was so paradigmatic that it could change the course of the national debate, explains Lisa Sánchez, a member of the group as well as drug policy director for México Unido contra la Delincuencia, in El Universal. "We didn't do a strategic lawsuit for medicinal marijuana or for the total regulation of the market, nor did we do one from the scope of security, nor in terms of health, but rather as a human rights issue, because the conversation was less likely to emerge on its own," she said.

The court decision has President "Enrique Peña Nieto's government at bay and has shown it the urgency of discussing the issue and to begin making decisions. The Court has sent the message that action on the issue of drugs cannot be delayed, and especially in a country with so much legitimacy with respect to the war on drugs," Sánchez said.

For the decision to become law, the Court must rule similarly in at least five more consecutive cases, and at least 18 more requests to consume cannabis have been received by the relevant government commission since the November ruling. But México Unido contra la Delincuencia is also working along with other organizations to lobby for legislative changes as well, according to El Universal.

A piece from last week in El Universal looks at how the SMART case was constructed. One of the plaintiffs, Juan Francisco Torres Landa of México Unido contra la Delincuencia, said that in the wake of the decision he's had to explain to his young daughter why he's fighting for permission to use marijuana.

"I told her that the battle we're waging and winning will provoke better decisions from politicians, improve conditions, I showed her some simple numbers on how many people have died in situations related to the war on drugs; I told her that the problem of Ayotzinapa, for example, was very related to drugs," he said.

México Unido contra la Delincuencia aims for legalization as a way to reduce the illegal market for the drug, explains León Bendesky in La Jornada, in a piece that reviews the case. He notes that while drug trafficking and the violence that goes with it is an important source of citizen insecurity, more people die in Mexico from diabetes than from drug overdoses.

Much of the debate has libertarian overtones, and Bendesky says a dose of liberatarianism is right on.

Prohibition is a dead model, argues Juan Ramón de la Fuente in an interview with El Universal's Confabulario. A medical doctor who formerly presided at UNAM, de la Fuente recently published a book that scientifically examines marijuana and pushes for medical uses. He notes that criminalization has led to increased incarceration rates for possession of relatively small amounts of the drug. 

In Reforma, Jorge Volpi urges readers to imagine a hypothetical scenario where a new trend has arisen: people cutting the skin on their arms and legs. Would the answer be to forbid knives?

Also in Reforma, Pancho Búrquez argues that consumption of drugs is essentially a personal problem with impact in the individual and family sphere.
But not so fast, legalization will likely require regulation of some kind, and that is where the issues can get thornier. In Milenio María del Carmen Platas says the Supreme Court decision "launched fireworks to society that permits the venting of expressions of sympathy and antipathy for the decision." But beyond the pyrotechnics, legislating this new "right to recreation" will be laborious, she notes. The right will have to be exercised with respect for society and other human rights -- "like every human right, the supposed right to the free development of personality has limits."

In La Razón Elizabeth Galindo looking at the example of U.S. states that have legalized in recent years and notes that legalization could present an important economic opportunity. One that should be rejected according to Torres Landa, who emphasizes that SMART's goal is to end the prohibitionist model and minimize consumption from a public health perspective, not to open the doors to a for-profit industry.

El Daily Post's respondents emphasized four common themes: "a)marijuana legalization is a process, not a moment, b) creating a legal marijuana market is not easy, c) there are many regulatory options, and d) there are no ready-made answers."

A good legalization policy should not treat the industry as a "cash cow" for private companies or for state tax collectors, writes Keith Humphreys, an advisor at the U.S. White House Office of National Drug Policy and a member of California's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana policy. Such a policy effectively creates incentives to promote marijuana use, which is a poor outcome, he says.

In a similar vein, a successful policy must balance between permitting legitimate access without excessive consumption which could have bad outcomes, argues Bryce Pardo, a former official at the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission and former consultant to the government of Jamaica on the issue of cannabis regulation.

El Daily Post's experts also emphasize the importance of keeping the marijuana industry out of corporate hands. The policy should be one of temperance in use, says Mark Kleiman, author of several books on the issue and a member of Committee of Law and Justice of the U.S. National Research Council. Prices should be kept high to discourage heavy daily use, marketing should be restricted, labeling should be accurate and the industries political power should be limited. He advocates a legislative legalization process, as it allows for more input and compromise than initiative driven processes. 

There are a number of supply options between marijuana prohibition and for-profit commercial legalization explains Beau Kilmer, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation. He advocates that states make sure they retain flexibility in the model they choose, so as to not be locked into architecture that proves suboptimal in time. 

The piece in El Universal goes into other cases in the region experimenting with marijuana legalization, especially Uruguay, and notes that prominent war on drugs former presidents are now leading calls to seek political alternatives. 

On the issue of legalization in Mexico, check out this Ciudad de las Ideas conference with former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former President of the Swiss Confederation Ruth Dreifuss, the representative of the Mexican UNDOC office Antonio Mazzitelli, and Mark Keiman among others. 

News Briefs

  • An alliance of Haitian opposition presidential candidates signed a declaration demanding major changes in the country's electoral system and other agencies. If that doesn't happen, they demand a transitional government to oversee a new vote, reports the Associated Press. The signatories are led by Jude Célestin -- the second place finisher in Haiti's October presidential election. Dubbed the G8, the eight candidates said the transition government could last as long as 24 months. The candidates ended their statement which was released late last night by calling on the population "to continue to exercise its right to peacefully demonstrate to enforce its will and not to give into blackmail, intimidation and manipulation," reports the Miami Herald. On Friday Célestin said that he hasn't decided yet whether he will take part in the scheduled Dec. 27 runoff against government-backed candidate and first place finisher Jovenel Moïse, reports the Associated Press. (See Nov. 19th's post.)
  • Starting tomorrow Ecuador will require that Cubans wanting to visit apply online for a visa -- a difficult process in a country with very limited Internet access, explains the New York Times. About 200 people gathered to protest outside the Ecuadorean embassy in Havana. Ecuador was, up until now, the only Latin American country that didn't require a visa for Cubans. Thousands travel each year, and the country is now the starting off point for Cuban migrants who are trekking north to the United States, spurred on by fear that a favorable immigration policy with the former Cold War enemy will soon end. (See last Wednesday's post.) 
  • Minor-league baseball could be the next diplomatic frontier between Cuba and the U.S. in the ongoing thawing of relations between the two countries. A group of Americans are seeking to return professional baseball to Havana, where it was immensely popular before the revolution. The Caribbean Baseball Initiative, as the group is called, includes two highly regarded former American ambassadors and has obtained the necessary licensing from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, reports the New York Times. The executive behind the initiative Lou Schwechheimer, says baseball is a common denominator between the two countries, and says he has been encouraged to engage by the State Department.
  • The international community is anxiously watching Venezuela ahead of this weekend's much anticipated National Assembly elections, and worry that instead of defusing tensions, the vote could lead to crisis, reports the Washington Post. The ruling socialist party is expected to lose control of the legislature for the first time since the late Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998, and defiant government statements indicate little signs of cooperation with the opposition. Without credible international observers, anything other than an opposition win is likely to lead to accusations of fraud, argues the piece. But experts caution against expecting a sweeping opposition victory, as the electoral map favors rural Chavista districts, and the government uses it's resources to promote candidates. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Venezuelan activist, Luis Díaz, a leader of the opposition Democratic Action party in Guárico State, was killed at a campaign event on Wednesday. He was shot 10 times by men at close range, said Lilian Tintori, whose party is allied with Diaz's and who was near the victim at the time, she said in a news conference last week. Venezuela's political opposition has accused the government of a terror campaign, reports the Wall Street Journal. Opposition candidates for congress across the country have reported a rise in attacks from armed government supporters in the past week. The U.S. State Department condemned the killing and called on the government to protect all political candidates ahead of next week's landmark National Assembly elections, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's reputation as a conservation leader is being threatened by austerity policies that have shrunk program budgets and decreased personnel at the agency that monitors environmentally protected areas, reports the Washington Post. A proposed 6 million acre desert biosphere reserve in Zacatecas has become a particular test of President Enrique Peña Nieto's commitment to environmental protection.
  • CEPR's Mark Weisbrot argues in Fortune that Argentine president-elect Mauricio Macri is bad news for Argentina and the region. He notes that poverty was reduced by about 70 percent over the past 12 years of Kirchner governments (according to independent estimates). Unemployment fell from more than 17.2% to 6.9%, according to the International Monetary Fund. He argues that Macri's tough talk on Venezuela is part of his demonstration of overwhelming loyalty to the U.S, to the detriment of other regional relationships. "In joining the effort against Venezuela, Macri showed a willingness to take steps that no other South American president would do. In the past decade, South American presidents have repeatedly joined together to defend democracy in the region when it was under attack—with Washington on the other side—not only in Venezuela in20142013, and 2002, but in Bolivia (2008), Honduras (2009), Ecuador (2010), and Paraguay (2012). Macri runs a serious risk of damaging relations in the Western Hemisphere if he continues down this road." He also doubts the end of the "pink tide," which commentators have been going crazy with lately. (See Nov. 6th's post.)
  • Argentina has some of the Latin America's most liberal civil rights legislation. Yet, advances for the LGBT community are countermanded by widespread conservative and machista attitudes in society, according to the New York Times. Over the past few months several transgender women have been killed -- dubbed transgendercide by some -- prompting a look at the challenges that remain for the community in Argentina. The piece looks at many of the reforms ushered in under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's administration, viewed as a key component of a wider focus on human rights. 
  • Last week Brazilian Senator Delcídio do Amaral and his chief of staff, Diogo Ferreira Rodrigues were arrested on charges of obstructing prosecutors in the wide-ranging investigation into corruption at state-run oil giant Petrobras. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) The evidence was provided by a cellphone recording by the son of Nestor Cerveró, a Petrobras executive convicted on corruption and money laundering charges, in which Amaral sought to dissuade  from negotiating a plea agreement. The arrest of the head of the Senate's economic committee, could further complicated things for President Dilma Rousseff, as he was considered crucial in getting the government’s fiscal austerity measures passed, reports theNew York Times
  • Rousseff's administration remains in hot water, reports the NYTimes in a separate piece on the subject. A Eurasia Group research note last week assessed that there is a 40 percent risk of Rousseff not finishing her term. The Wall Street Journal reports that her approval ratings remain low -- a Datafolha poll released yesterday shows that she has 10 percent. Still, that's a slight improvement since August, when she had 8 percent, the lowest ever approval rating since the agency began it's survey in 1990. Around two-thirds of respondents — 67 percent — rated the president "bad or terrible," down from 71 percent in August. Thirty-four percent of respondents considered corruption to be Brazil’s biggest problem, surpassing other challenges that include unemployment, crime and a poor education system. It is the first time that corruption has emerged as the top concern in the Datafolha survey.
  • Billionaire banker André Esteves resigned Sunday as chairman and chief executive of BTG Pactual, Brazil's largest independent investment bank after the Supreme Court agreed to a request by federal prosecutors to keep him in jail on charges of obstructing justice in the Petrobras investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A dengue-like virus is connected to a surge of cases of babies born with small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, in Brazil's northeast, reports the Associated Press.
  • There appears to be increasing evidence that the burst Sanmarco mining dam in Brazil's Minas Gerais state caused high levels of pollution to flow into the River Doce. Reuters reports that the state Institute for Water Management found illegal levels of arsenic and mercury polluted a river in the days after a dam burst on Nov. 5. (See Nov. 18th's briefs.) And last week the United Nations human rights agency said "new evidence" showed that flood dumped mud "contained high levels of toxic heavy metals and other chemicals." For the first time Vale acknowledged the presence of toxic elements in the River Doce on Friday, reports the Wall Street Journal. Brazil's government promised to sue iron ore miner Samarco and its co-owners BHP Billiton and Vale for $ 5.2 billion for the damage by the accident, reports the Associated Press. The lawsuit is expected to be filed today, reports the Wall Street Journal. The case will be the biggest government response yet to the disaster which killed at least 13 people and displaced hundreds in the wake of the subsequent floods of mud. A piece in The Guardian last week said the accident was likely one of the biggest environmental disasters in Brazil's history and looks at whether the accident was a result of government and industry negligence. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Colombia's conscription army is mostly manned by Colombia's poor, young men who are drafted because they cannot afford the escape route: college and a fee that ranges from $300 to $1,200. Many believe it fuels the inequality that is at the heart of a conflict that has lasted a half century, reports the Associated Press. The piece looks at the practise of using military dragnets to check if young men have served their time, thus filling the ranks of a military that now numbers 250,000, of which just 100,000 are professional soldiers. Last month the Supreme Court likened the practice to kidnapping.
  • An experiment in environmental public policy in Guatemala suggests that "the most effective way to protect forests is to give control of them to the communities who already live there," reports the New York Times. The piece looks at an experiment in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the northern Petén region, on the theory that local communities that survive off of logging have a very clear incentive to protect their forest livelihood.
  • Six inmates in a Guatemalan prison were killed in a prison riot this weekend. Some of the prisoners were reportedly armed with AK-47 assault rifles, according to Reuters. They were held in a facility known as the Granja de Rehabilitacion Canada, which was designed to hold 600 inmates but houses 3,092, reports the Associated Press.
  • One of the most perilous jobs in the cocaine industry is that of the mochileros (backpackers) who smuggle pure cocaine from Peru's Vraem valley. A colorful BBC feature looks at the industry in the remote valley east of the Peruvian highlands, where more than half of the country's cocaine is produced.

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