Mexico's tourism minister wants to reduce violence in tourist hotspots by legalizing marijuana

A participant prepares a marijuana joint during the Global Marijuana March 2017, in support of the legalization of marijuana in Mexico City, Mexico May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Marijuana should be legalized in two of Mexico’s main tourist hot spots, Cancun and Los Cabos, in order to reduce criminal violence, Mexico’s minister for tourism said on Thursday.

Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Mexico could follow the example of the United States and legalize marijuana in areas with support, urging Quintana Roo, where Cancun lies, and Baja California Sur, the home of Los Cabos, to move ahead with it.

“It’s absurd that we’re not taking this step as a country,” de la Madrid told reporters at a conference in Mexico City.

“Even if there’s work to do on the whole of the country, I’d like to see that it might be done in Baja California and Quintana Roo,” he added, describing the states as victims of a poor drug law.

Baja California and Quintana Roo have been two of the states hardest hit by a jump in gang violence in the country over the past year, helping to prompt verbal swipes from US President Donald Trump about how dangerous it is in Mexico.

Mexico Playa del Carmen nightclub shooting police

Baja California Sur saw its total number of homicide victims increase from 225 in 2016 to 738 last year. The state’s homicide rate rose from 24.4 homicides per 100,000 in 2016 to 69.15 in 2017. In Quintana Roo, the number of homicide victims rose from 165 in 2016 to 359 in 2017. The state’s homicide rate rose 5.85 homicides per 100,000 people in 2016 to 8.53 last year.

Asked whether such a move would create marijuana tourism, de la Madrid said tourists “already bring it or buy it, so they don’t come for that. What can’t be justified is that a user goes to jail because he consumes marijuana. What is not justified is that he is a victim of extortion because he consumers marijuana. It is absurd.” 

De la Madrid later said in a Twitter post that his comments reflected his personal views, “based on the analysis and study of the subject for many years.”

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There are no state-level drug prohibitions in Mexico, and legalizing at the state level would require changing the general health law, which is national in scope, according to security analyst Alejandro Hope.

Hope also said it was unlikely that the illicit market for marijuana was a main driver of violence, contrasting it with that for cocaine or heroin. 

President Enrique Pena Nieto has said the United States and Mexico should not pursue diverging policies on marijuana. In 2016, he proposed a bill to allow Mexicans to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, but the measure stalled in Congress.

Carlos Mendoza, governor of Baja California Sur, told local media that if the idea were adopted, it should be implemented in various areas popular with tourists.

“It seems foolish and illogical that we’re here fighting with a strategy that costs lives in Mexico and magically, crossing the border, marijuana becomes legal,” he said. California this month became the sixth US state to legalize the drug despite a federal ban.

Despite the trend toward legalization north of the border, cartels still make millions of dollars from smuggling marijuana into the United States. Mexico legalized marijuana use for medical and scientific needs in June.

(Reporting for Reuters by Daina Beth Solomon; additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; editing by Dave Graham and Cynthia Osterman)

SEE ALSO: Mexico had its most homicides in decades in 2017 — and 2018 is off to a gruesome start

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