STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
When California votes on Proposition 19, people will be closely watching here, and also across the border in Mexico. The measure would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Supporters say it would help to reduce the violence south of the border. But in Mexico, there is no clear consensus on how Proposition 19 would affect the drug trade. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports with the last story in our series on the politics of pot.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Earlier this year, in the western state of Michoacan, Mexican soldiers hacked their way through six foot tall marijuana plants with machetes. Mexico destroys 50,000 acres of cultivated marijuana every year, and seizes roughly 1,500 tons of packaged pot. Yet truckloads of the product still flow north, each year, into the United States.
According to the U.N., the wholesale price of a kilo of marijuana in Mexico is roughly $80. That same kilo is worth almost $7,000 once smugglers move it across the border. This huge price differential generates billions of dollars each year in profits to some of the most sophisticated, and violent, criminal syndicates in the world.
Mexican senator, Rene Arce, who supports legalizing marijuana, says the drug war is not winnable and it's destroying Mexico.
RENE ARCE: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The number of victims is very high, Senator Arce says. Consumption isn't going down. Production isn't going down. Money laundering isn't going down. Violence isn't going down.
Almost four years after President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels, Arce says there is not one positive sign that the policy is succeeding. He applauds the initiative in California.
ARCE: (Spanish spoken)
BEABIEN: This won't bring down the consumption, but at least it will bring down the violence, Arce says. And he says legalization on both sides of the border would allow the government to better control the drug trade and treat addicts.
The links between the marijuana trade and violence was underscored, again this week, when 13 people were gunned down at a drug treatment center in Tijuana. Local prosecutors say they believe the massacre was linked to the seizure of 134 tons of pot in the city, two weeks ago. But many people here don't believe that simply legalizing marijuana in California will change things. The police chief in Tijuana said, this week, that if the initiative passes, Californians will be smoking weed, quote, "stained with Mexican blood."
Ricardo Sanchez Huesca, who runs a youth advocacy program in the capital, says the California initiative sends a message that marijuana is not dangerous.
RICARDO SANCHEZ HUESCA: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: All drugs are dangerous, he says. There's no difference between hard or soft drugs. People might be thinking that, oh, now marijuana is legal, now it doesn't cause much damage. This is a huge error, he says.
The California initiative has fueled a fierce debate in Mexico over President Calderon's drug war. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has said that both the U.S. and Mexico should consider legalizing drugs as a way to reduce the violence associated with the drug trade.
President Calderon, meanwhile, remains opposed to legalization. Just this week, Calderon has blasted what he called an inconsistent U.S. drug policy; which, on the one hand, criminalizes narcotics and, on the other, allows medical marijuana sales. He, again, blamed Mexico's drug war problem on the huge demand for drugs in the U.S.
Raul Benitez Manaut, a researcher at the Center for North American Studies at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, says even if California legalizes pot, it will have a very limited impact in Mexico.
RAUL BENITEZ MANAUT: Many people believe that this will be a big effect in Mexico. I don't believe that. The effect will not be big and not be direct and immediately.
BEAUBIEN: He notes that the Catholic Church remains a powerful force in Mexican society, and that on social issues, such as drug use, most of Mexico remains quite conservative. So while the ballot initiative in California is causing debate in here, Benitez says it is unlikely to change Mexican drug policy in the short term. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.
INSKEEP: Find our whole series on Prop 19 at NPR.org.