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TribBlog: El Paso City Reps. Urge Changes in Drug Policy

City of El Paso representatives call for a change in drug policy, allege current laws are a failure.

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Community leaders in far West Texas want to legalize pot while also holding American drug users accountable for the overwhelming violence in Mexico.

Members of the El Paso City Council today joined other community and faith leaders from El Paso and Las Cruces, N.M. to draw attention to the “abysmal” failure that has been the United States’ War on Drugs and its effects on the borderlands.

On the U.S. side, but just blocks away from downtown Juárez, at the base of the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, El Paso City Reps. Susie Byrd and Beto O’Rourke unveiled the Declaration in Support of Juárez, calling on the Obama Administration to launch a campaign to show U.S. drug users how they contribute to the carnage in Mexico.

“We can no longer afford to deny the overwhelming role that U.S. consumption of drugs plays in fueling the violence in Juárez and elsewhere in Mexico, or ignore that illicit cash and arms flows from the United States into Mexico play a direct and powerful role in sustaining the cartels and in fomenting the massive killing of people in our neighboring Mexican city,” reads a portion of the declaration.

They said more than 150 minors, including toddlers, have been gunned down in Juárez since 2008 and that more El Pasoans were killed there in 2009 than in their hometown.

The elected officials also called on the administration to legalize marijuana, which earns $8 to $9 billion dollars annually for the cartels, comprising between 50 to 70 percent of their total revenue stream, Byrd said. El Paso's City Council recently voted down a resolution calling for legalizing pot. 

“We feel regulating and taxing products like marijuana, which is a huge part of their business model, would at least provide some opportunity for Juárez to rebuild itself,” she said.

The declaration, signed by more than 65 community leaders, also calls for current U.S. interdiction efforts to focus more on treatment for substance abuse, less military intervention and a better-concentrated effort to address alleged human rights abuses. The measures are all supported, according to the resolution, by former Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo. It adds that Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman long supported legalizing marijuana.

The event was timed for Obama’s scheduled state dinner with current Mexican President Felipe Calderon later this week. It also came on the heels of an Associated Press report addressing what "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske, the current director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said about U.S. drug policy.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful. Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified," he told the AP.

Byrd acknowledged the hurdles in front of the coalition — specifically, the local, state and federal governments’ collective support against an immediate change in drug laws. She said there is no choice but to act, especially as their neighbor across the Rio Grande continues to mourn and suffer.

“The option to not do anything because of the odds is not an option, particularly given the incredible violence in the sister city, so we feel like we need to act,” she said.

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