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October 18, 2006 - San Diego Union Tribune (CA)

Leaders Debate Plan To Legalize Drugs In Mexico

By Sandra Dibble

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

TIJUANA - A former governor's proposal that drugs be legalized in Mexico has set off a sharp debate in this region plagued by drug-related violence.

In the days since Ernesto Ruffo Appel brought up the subject at a business forum in Mexicali, it has drawn the attention of political, civic and religious leaders across the state.

"If someone wants to prick their veins, let them do so," Ruffo, a member of the National Action Party, or PAN, said on Friday. "But they should no longer be allowed to drag down governments."

The issue of legalizing or decriminalizing drugs has come amid a growing outcry against violence in Baja California, much of it related to drug trafficking. On Saturday, the Citizens Front for Security is expected to begin a 16-day march through the state to bring attention to the region's crime problems.

One of the march's leaders, Alberto Capella Ibarra, said yesterday that he would back a proposal to decriminalize drugs.

"It seems that Mr. Ruffo is correct, on an issue that has become politically very difficult for many leaders," said Capella, president of Baja California's Citizens' Advisory Committee on Public Safety.

Capella said suspects arrested with small amounts of drugs for personal use are routinely released by federal prosecutors, who investigate drug-related crimes. "In the strict sense, drugs are already legalized," Capella said.

Baja California for years has been a transit point for drugs being smuggled into the United States.

Drug abuse has steadily increased, and leaders say that tighter U.S. border security has meant more drugs in the streets of border cities. Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon estimates that his city has 100,000 drug addicts.

Ruffo's proposal hit a nerve, and many are opposing it, including Baja California Gov. Eugenio Elorduy and Tijuana Roman Catholic Bishop Rafael Romo Munoz.

During a stop in Tijuana yesterday, Elorduy, who is also a PAN member, said drug prevention programs in schools and rehabilitation programs are the appropriate way to combat drug abuse.

"They are the path to preventing people from falling and becoming victims," Elorduy said.

Ruffo acknowledged that his proposal is controversial and that it won't be easy to legalize or decriminalize drugs in Mexico; any proposal would have to be embraced by state and federal legislatures.

Ruffo, now in private business, said nobody paid much attention when he first brought up the idea in 1993, while he was governor. But the idea received much attention when he spontaneously suggested it last week as he responded to a question about kidnappings.

"Thirteen years have passed, and the situation has continued to deteriorate . . . and affected many families that have nothing to do with drugs," Ruffo said. "We're at a point where nobody's doing anything . . . illegal drugs have created a monster."

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