US/Mexico Summit Looks At Legalization, Research

CalNORML Director Dale Gieringer with former Mexican President Vicente Fox at the Summit

San Cristobal, Mexico, Jul 18-20. This past weekend former Mexican President Vicente Fox hosted a symposium at Centro Fox, where delegates from the US, Mexico and Europe discussed legalizing and regulating marijuana as an alternative to Mexico's bloody drug war. The symposium received extensive coverage from the Mexican press and over 10,000 people followed it on the Internet.

President Fox, who has been a vocal critic of recent Mexican policy, proposed legalizing and regulating marijuana in order to reduce prohibition-related violence in Mexico. That violence escalated dramatically under Fox's successor, Felipe Calderon, who declared a military war on drug traffickers on the advice of the U.S. Government. "I don't get why Mexico isn't doing other things," said Fox. "Legalization can't have worse consequences than what we have now."

The US delegation was led by Jamen Shively, a Washington State entrepreneur and founder of Diego Pellicer, Inc., a prospective legal cannabusiness. Speaking fluent Spanish, Shively apologized for America's shameful role in promoting Mexican drug violence by consuming its marijuana while promoting its prohibition. Shively was joined by John Davis, chairman of the board of Hempfest, who emphasized the futility of prohibition.

Other US delegates spoke of current experiments with legal marijuana. Alison Holcombe, author of Washington state's legalization initiative, discussed the state's efforts to regulate marijuana in the wake of November's victory at the ballot box. Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer noted that similar plans are underway in California for 2016. Robert Raich, an attorney on Cal NORML's board, presented the range of international policies ranging from decriminalization to legalization.

The Dutch ambassador to Mexico, Dolf Honewoning, gave a presentation about the Netherlands' policy of cannabis coffee shops. His presentation was well received by attendees, though he misleadingly stated that the government was ending sales to foreigners as of January 2013, a move that has since been stymied due to strong local objections. Lisa Sánchez of UK's Transform Drug Policy Foundation and Mexico Unido Contra la Delinquencia discussed Portugal's decriminalization policy and Uruguay's pending proposal for a state-controlled legal marijuana distribution system.

(L to R) Rob Raich, Michael McGuffin, Steph Sherer, Alison Holcomb, Dale Gieringer, Aaron Justis, John Davis, Jamen Shively, Vicente Fox, Leo Zuckerman

The Mexican delegation presented a variety of views, ranging from supportive to cautious, emphasizing the fact that Mexico's situation regarding to marijuana is dissimilar to that of the US. Unlike the US, which is the world's leading consumer of marijuana, Mexico has among the lowest usage rates in the hemisphere: just 1.2% of the population (2.2% male and 0.3% female). On the other hand, Mexico has a severe problem with illegal production and trafficking. Although possession of 5 grams or less is not an offense in Mexico, marijuana offenses account for some 500,000 arrests and the vast majority of prison inmates in Mexico.

While there was general agreement that current policies have failed, there were considerable differences of opinion about how effective legalization would be in solving Mexico's criminal problems. It was noted that marijuana isn't the cartels' only illegal business, though it is generally thought to be the biggest one. Given Mexico's low usage rate, there were fears that legalization could aggravate usage, which isn't currently a problem in Mexico.

Dr. Fernando Cano Valle, the director of Mexico's Commission Against Addiction, was most skeptical about liberalization, echoing the familiar law enforcement line that marijuana use leads to crime and mental degeneracy. While agreeing that marijuana users shouldn't be criminalized, he warned against legalizing its sale. Dr. Julio Frenk, President Fox's former health minister and now Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, observed that studies have failed to show a link between liberal marijuana laws and increased usage, while Mexico has suffered an unprecedented decrease in life expectancy by young males due to gang violence. Dr. Javier de la Fuente thought that legalizing marijuana could have some beneficial effect in reducing violence, but warned that gangs are starting to grow more poppies than marijuana. Dr. Rubén Aguilar Valenzuela noted that cartels have been in Mexico for 70 years, but how they are dealt with has changed.

Mexican Congressman Fernando Belaunzarán de Méndez announced that he is sponsoring a bill to legalize small-scale cultivation and distribution in Mexico City through social clubs. The bill would mark a new departure insofar as Mexico currently has uniform drug laws throughout the nation. While prospects for immediate passage seem unlikely, Mexican observers expressed hope that it might eventually come to fruition.

The second day of the conference featured a discussion on the medical benefits of marijuana led by Dr. Frenk, Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access, Dale Gieringer and Dr. Michael Osborne. Dr. Cano Valle expressed his usual skepticism, claiming that cities with medical marijuana dispensaries have high rates of violence, and said that very little is known because research is difficult to accomplish. Gieringer suggested that Mexico start a research program of its own, noting that since research is impeded in the US by federal regulations, a Mexican program could attract participation by American researchers as well. Sherer seconded the suggestion, and Aaron Justis offered to supply marijuana from his Los Angeles collective (if that could be arranged legally). The research proposal was well received by the Mexican delegation, including President Fox, who pledged to help establish a research program through Centro Fox.

Addressing the conference by televideo, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the leading Republican champion of marijuana reform in Congress, encouraged attendees to "step forward and speak the truth." He cautioned that Congressional reform wouldn't happen overnight, but hopefully within the next five years.

Speaking at a press conference, President Fox opined that legalization could also take place in Mexico within the next five years, especially if California legalizes in 2016. "If it's legalized in California, it's legalized in Mexico," observed Mexican journalist Leo Zuckerman.
California NORML wishes to express its special gratitude to President Fox, Centro Fox and Jamen Shively for the opportunity to participate.

CONCLUSIONS OF THE First US-Mexico Symposium on the Legalization and Medical Use of Cannabis
Centro Fox, as a nonpartisan institute that embraces diversity, is a firm believer in the need for us to change our conception of cannabis use as an issue of national security to one of public health, taking into account and documenting the success stories of other nations in this regard.
It was for this reason that the center, in conjunction with James Shively, founder and CEO of Diego Pellicer Inc. and former Microsoft executive, organized the “First US-Mexico Symposium on the Legalization and Medical Use of Cannabis”, which took place at our facilities on July 19 and 20, 2013. At the symposium, ten experts from each country, along with specially invited guests, shared information on cannabis legalization as public policy and described cases where such policy has been applied.
We the organizers believe that this event will help to overcome the traditional taboo that has tended to shroud any open discussion on the possible legalization of illicit drugs, particularly the question of whether the use of cannabis for medical purposes should be legalized. We believe it is a debate that needs to be addressed on a much wider scale.
The minutes of the symposium will be available shortly and will include the various presentations given, along with an account of the rich debate that took place over the two days. We were delighted to see that over 10,000 people in Mexico and abroad followed the broadcast of the symposium on the Internet, with a large number of these also taking the opportunity to express their own points of view.

CONCLUSIONS OF THE First US-Mexico Symposium on the Legalization and Medical Use of Cannabis

Centro Fox, as a nonpartisan institute that embraces diversity, is a firm believer in the need for us to change our conception of cannabis use as an issue of national security to one of public health, taking into account and documenting the success stories of other nations in this regard.

It was for this reason that the center, in conjunction with James Shively, founder and CEO of Diego Pellicer Inc. and former Microsoft executive, organized the “First US-Mexico Symposium on the Legalization and Medical Use of Cannabis”, which took place at our facilities on July 19 and 20, 2013. At the symposium, ten experts from each country, along with specially invited guests, shared information on cannabis legalization as public policy and described cases where such policy has been applied.

We the organizers believe that this event will help to overcome the traditional taboo that has tended to shroud any open discussion on the possible legalization of illicit drugs, particularly the question of whether the use of cannabis for medical purposes should be legalized. We believe it is a debate that needs to be addressed on a much wider scale.

The minutes of the symposium will be available shortly and will include the various presentations given, along with an account of the rich debate that took place over the two days. We were delighted to see that over 10,000 people in Mexico and abroad followed the broadcast of the symposium on the Internet, with a large number of these also taking the opportunity to express their own points of view.

Pending the publication of the full report of the proceedings, Centro Fox and Diego Pellicer Inc. have drawn up the following 16 conclusions:

• The “prohibit and punish” model has been a failure. It has not brought about any reduction in consumption whatsoever and has indeed had certain social effects that have proved to be worse than the problem it was intended to solve.

• Within the framework of the current model, the cost of combatting drug use is very high in all countries and if we continue along the same path the outlook looks even bleaker.

• The issue of cannabis use needs to be looked at from many angles: as a health issue and a legal one; in terms of its social and economic repercussions; its effect on security and the environment, and so on.

• The debate over cannabis consumption needs to go beyond mere questions of ideology and focus on empirical evidence.

• Given our close proximity to the US, we ourselves must take into account the process towards the legalization of cannabis that is underway there, indeed, we simply cannot ignore it.

• A total of twenty US states currently allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes. This number is set to increase. Eleven of these states have issued licenses for industrial-scale growing operations. Three states actually allow the recreational use of cannabis: Colorado, Maryland, and Washington.

• The list of academic institutions and social and political leaders—including former and serving presidents of Latin American nations—calling for a change in the traditional paradigm and for the legalization of cannabis grows longer day by day.

• Most of those who attended the symposium agreed that we need to move towards the legalization/regulation of cannabis.

• Around the world and in the US in particular, there is a clear trend of growing support for the therapeutic use of cannabis, a purpose for which it has been used for centuries. In fact, cannabis has only actually been prohibited for a number of decades.

• There is an abundance of sound, scientifically-backed empirical data that proves the efficacy of marijuana use in the treatment of certain health conditions.

• Given the magnitude of the issue, research into this question needs to continue and the scope of such research be broadened. In Mexico in particular, this need is extremely pressing.

• Due to the level of violence in the country, life expectancy among young Mexicans is falling.

• Across the globe, a range of countries, such as the Netherlands, Portugal, and various other European countries have successfully taken a new approach by legalizing cannabis.

• We need to take a close look at each case and at the results there and, based on solid data, assess how successful each has been.

• Most of the participants in the symposium believe that legalizing/regulating cannabis use could be the road ahead if we are to weaken the economic power of organized crime and reduce the levels of violence we are currently seeing.

• In the future, we need to deepen and expand the debate, and seek an alternative to a paradigm that rather than help overcome social problems has exacerbated them and, in the process, entailed high and severe social costs, not least of which has been the escalation in violence.

Comunidad de San Cristóbal, San Francisco del Rincón, July 20, 2013.