BY JOHNNY HAZARD
An injunction upheld recently by the Mexican supreme court recognizes the right of the four litigants to cultivate, consume and possess marijuana and appears to pave the way toward further liberalization of drug laws. The decision is confusing and has been misinterpreted by some as a general legalization.
Politicians, including hardline President Enrique Peña Nieto, have spoken approvingly of the decision, saying that though they are personally opposed to drug use, it’s time to open the debate. This contrasts with their eager participation in a drug war that has cost thousands of lives since 2006. Peña Nieto took office in 2012 after having promised to restrict the use of the military in the destruction of marijuana and opium crops and, especially, their participation as police in their constant shoot-outs against “narcos” who often turn out to be ordinary citizens traveling or visiting a night club (or a school). The drug war, when begun by then-President Felipe Calderón, was seen by skeptics as a means for him to consolidate power after narrowly winning the election amid accusations of fraud, much as Bush did with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Some noted that many of the states targeted for anti-drug action were also areas of guerrilla activity. This is especially the case in Guerrero, where just two weeks after the marijuana decision was announced, the former director of the Escuela Rural Normal Isidro Burgos of the village of Ayotzinapa claimed that the school was a hotbed of marijuana use and sexual harassment. To claim that weed and sexual harassment occur at any school would not be remarkable, except that this is the school whose students were killed and disappeared on Sept. 26, 2014, in a case that has brought worldwide disrepute to the Mexican government. The comment comes in the midst of many mainstream assertions of the supposed criminality of the students and is an attempt to equate misdemeanors possibly committed by some students with the government-sponsored kidnapping and mass murder to which they have been subject. The education students of Ayotzinapa probably consume less alcohol and marijuana than other young Mexicans, given the discipline imposed by the political organization that most of them belong to, the Federación de Estudiantes Campesimos y Socialistas de México.
This tactic of what we could call marijuana-baiting—discrediting someone politically or morally through accusations of marijuana use—is very common in Mexico and has only abated slightly in the past two years, as consumption increases (according to surveys and to what anyone can see and smell) and attitudes in favor of legalization begin to be expressed more openly. Comments like “I don’t use drugs. Just beer and tequila for me” or the use of the word mariguano as an insult for someone who may really consume crack cocaine or glue or who merely appears to lack motivation are still common. Unlike in the United States, it is still possible to find many people between the ages of 15 and 80 who have never tried marijuana.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera has spoken in favor of medical marijuana, perhaps conscious of a 2005 letter in which economist Milton Friedman and other “Chicago boys” declared that drugs should be legal because they could generate revenues, equally legal, of $10-14 billion per year. (Mancera, lawyer and owner of a chain of restaurants, tends to favor the monied class.) This apparent openness to drug law reform can be compared with laws enacted in the city in recent years that apparently favor the gay and lesbian community and have the obvious purpose of attracting tourism and providing a liberal veneer for a government that bases its survival on police brutality, a savage urban renewal program and cooperation with right-wing political parties and business groups, all of which affect GLBT communities negatively and disproportionately.
Former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador believes the talk of marijuana to be a distraction from the aggressive privatization occasioned by Peña Nieto’s reforms. López Obrador was an ally of Mayor Mancera until a few months ago and was instrumental in putting him in office, but his new party, Morena, has distanced itself from the party of Mancera, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, which has controlled city government since 1997 and has, according to most observers, moved drastically to the right. Others on the left believe the marijuana case to be a distraction from the disappearance of the 43 students and the government repression that has occurred since. It’s hard, for example, to find a dissident journalist who hasn’t been murdered, fired, or had his or her house broken into by goons who take computers and documents but not other valuables. The murder and disappearance of women continues at a horrifying pace in Ciudad Juárez and elsewhere, with the government denying or covering up the crimes. A recent book by Jenaro Villamil documents how Peña Nieto has expressed, since law school, his admiration for pre-revolutionary dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose most famous saying was “Kill them in cold blood.”
Many people are still depressed and in shock after the post-Apoytzinapa protests didn’t lead, as many anticipated and hoped, to the overthrow of the government or at least the resignation of the president. Most deal with extremely low wages, unemployment, or violence close to or at home. Twenty percent of women from 5 to 19 years of age have children. In this context, it’s easy to understand an increase in the already-alarming levels of drinking and alcoholism, especially among young people. Most neighborhoods in Mexico City are now dotted with unlicensed bars. Violence against women—from petty acts of harassment to sadistic murders—appears to be on the increase, though there are no reliable statistics. A discussion of the use of mind-altering substances in Mexico would not be complete without mentioning their possible relation to gender violence. While, as mentioned, youth drinking is on the rise among men and women, old-school drinking continues to thrive in environments where if there are any women, they are bar employees or sex workers. Antonio Ramírez, founder of support groups for men and author of Violencia masculina en el hogar, writes that though substances like alcohol and marijuana have disinhibiting effects that may facilitate acts of violence, they are not the cause, though substance abuse is present in a large percentage cases of gender violence: “Many men say that it wasn’t they who beat the woman, that alcohol made them do it. This suggests that if the man hadn’t been drinking he wouldn’t have been violent, but the fact is that drinking and thus putting his family at risk, is in itself violent. If he knows that when he drinks or uses drugs he’s violent and may ‘lose control,’ why does he drink so much?” Marijuana is the number two substance that men who enter support groups in Mexico report consuming.
In this context, most activists probably support the legalization of marijuana to increase personal liberty and to weaken the cartels but don’t see the increase in the use of substances as positive.