Note: Remarks in Spanish about Legalization Begin Around Minute 13:00
The ebb and flow of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's recent remarks acknowledging the need for a debate in Mexico about drug legalization, reminded me of a history professor of mine in the University of London. When asked about the appropriate position to take in writing an essay--a written form of debate--he said that English men never took a position, and he quipped that they liked fence-sitting because they relished the sensation.
It's hard to believe that Felipe Calderon enjoys the way he's chosen to sit on the fence of a debate about drug legalization. What did he say about a legalization of drugs debate to a gathering of Church, civic leaders, and government ministers at a conference on Tuesday 3 August? Did he call for a debate, as some websites and some papers claimed, or were his comments more muted, acknowledging a debate could occur but not really support its substance?
Calderon's remarks, which were recorded, archived, and transcribed on the Presidencia's website, are worth reading verbatim. Contrary to what the papers printed, he's clearly not going to do anything to promote a debate about legalization. Calderon's words reveal a president not taking a position, opening up debate, but stifling its outcome. It's not fence-sitting at all, it's jeopardizing a debate before it has been joined. It reveals a supportive view of a government policy--prohibition--that has occasioned the deaths of 28,000 people.
For the record, Calderon said:
"I take note, of the debate that has arisen here, about the regulation of drugs. It's a fundamental debate that I think ought primarily to exist in a plural democracy, and that it's a good thing to have this debate in the country. What they ought always to analyze profoundly are the conveniences and inconvenieces. The arguments of one and the other are fundamental.
On one side, there are those who allege precisely, that legalization] would imply an enormous increase of consumption in various generations of Mexicans, partly because of economic effect itself would diminish the price. In part, this increase would come about because of availability; in part, also because of the idea it creates ultimately that it is acceptable and socially good, and even let's say medicinal, that cultural uses hold high importance. Legalization implies that a country takes a decision to risk various generations of young people and adolescents.
But, on the other, it has important economic value, in the sense that it reduces important income sources for criminality.
On the other hand, however, if the best argument in favor of legalization is, precisely, that the reduction in the black market price will generate benefits, and if these are products not determined by national price and to one of our sides is the greatest consumer of drugs in the world; it means that the price is determined internationally, so that what we do ourelves in respect to this subject of price is going to be irrelevant and we are only going to pay negative consequences and, really rather little or nothing of the positive benefits."
It's important to notice what he failed to say about legalization. Calderon failed to mention that three former Latin American Presidents, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, all working in consort with other noted people, have urged countries to consider the legalization of marijuana. He didn't acknowledge the current debate in California, the world's sixth largest economy, which is preparing to vote on a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana. Calderon also didn't mention relevant examples of past and ongoing decriminalization, such as Portugal, where drug addiction rates have decreased and not increased.
Within hours, the press office of Los Pinos (Calderon's official offices and residence) offered a clarification of his statement. It's difficult to enhance a position that seems clearly to talk around a policy of legalization. The Latin American Herald Tribune reported that Calderon does not want legalization at all. Was he proposing simply to talk about the idea, rather than deliberate a policy?
The former seems to be the case. Calderon's press office concluded its statement summarizing the president's words:
"Hence, although being against the legalization of drugs, President Calderon is not opposed to a debate around this theme."
Doesn't seem that supportive, does it? Well, at least he doesn't just say no.