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Mexico wary as Calif. votes on legalizing marijuana

Legal-pot predictions

U.S. voters have already passed measures allowing the medicinal use of marijuana in the District of Columbia and 14 states, including Maryland. Proposition 19 would legalize the drug for all adults in California over 21.

The nonpartisan voter guide written by the California secretary of state concludes that a commercial marijuana industry could produce "hundreds of millions of dollars annually" in new taxes.

Proposition 19 would allow local governments to adopt ordinances regarding commercial marijuana activities - including cultivation, processing, distribution, transportation and retail sales. For example, local governments could license establishments to sell marijuana and allow customers to get high on the premises. Oakland's City Council has already approved giant indoor marijuana farms as large as two football fields.

But no one knows whether legalization in California would hurt or help Mexico. Bringing marijuana into California from Mexico would remain illegal under federal law.

Still, U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials worry that legalization in California could stoke greater demand that would be met by Mexican cartels.

The Mexican military, working with U.S. agents and intelligence, chops and burns thousands of tons of pot each year in the rugged mountains of the "golden triangle" in Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango. Mexico's marijuana- eradication program is the largest in the world, according to the United Nations.

Advocates of legalization in the United States and Mexico argue that California's Proposition 19 would actually hurt the drug cartels.

Given California's agricultural expertise and fertile soils, these advocates say, domestic marijuana yields would soar.

Much of the Mexican marijuana that reaches U.S. consumers today is a lower-quality, relatively inexpensive product raised on large mountain plantations with little husbandry.

In contrast, the meticulously tended, genetically refined, ultra-potent marijuana typically sold in California dispensaries for $20 to $40 a gram is a cartel-free local product, Eugene Davidovich said. His San Diego dispensary, the Best Buds Collective, acquires its wares only from known providers, not Mexican smugglers, he said.

"If someone comes in off the street, it doesn't matter what the price is - we won't buy it," said Davidovich, whose by-the-books operation offers medications such as Trainwreck Hash, pot-laced arthritis balm, and jars of crystallized super-cannabis with names such as Afghani Goo.

As much as half of the U.S. marijuana supply is now domestically produced, according to Drug Enforcement Administration estimates, and the homegrown trend has already cut into the earnings of Mexican cartels. The criminals have responded by setting up indoor operations in the United States or large outdoor plots on public lands.

In California, medical marijuana has become a fig leaf for those who want to legally smoke pot.

At one San Diego area doctor's office next to a driving school and a Christian youth center, walk-in patients can fill out a questionnaire, undergo a four-minute consultation with a physician, and purchase a medical marijuana certificate with a "420" identification card granting them access to the state's dispensaries.

In Mexico, the governors of the states that grow the most marijuana and face the most drug violence have warned that no solution is possible unless Mexico and the United States adopt a single, coordinated approach to drug use and drug trafficking, and Mexico's president has made clear that he agrees. "If there is not an international approach, Mexico will pay the costs and will get none of the benefits," Calderon said in a recent debate. "The price of drugs is not determined by Mexico. The price of drugs is determined by the consumers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago."

miroffn@washpost.com boothb@washpost.com


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