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MEXICO: Calderon urges drug-using nations to seek a new path

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REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Was Mexican President Felipe Calderon suggesting it’s time to legalize it?

Three times this week, Calderon urged nations that are the biggest buyers of illegal drugs -- tops is the United States -- to consider ‘market alternatives’ if they can’t find ways to reduce consumption.

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Before the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, Calderon said the best way to hit drug cartels that are wreaking violent havoc in Mexico is to cut demand. But if the governments can’t do so, Calderon said, they are ‘obligated to look for other ways, including market alternatives that prevent narco-traffickers from continuing to be the origin of violence and death.’

A growing list of world leaders has called for decriminalizing or legalizing the use of drugs, especially marijuana, as an alternative to an enforcement-based global strategy that critics say has failed to curb consumption despite billions of dollars spent.

Calderon, a conservative who launched his own war on Mexican cartels in 2006, has not been among that crowd. He previously has spoken out against legalization, at least in Mexico, though he is saying he is open to debate.

Last year, Calderon spoke out against California’s Proposition 19, which would have legalized possession of small quantities of marijuana, arguing it sent the wrong message as a time when his government is battling organized crime. In May, during a visit to Washington, Calderon said he feared legalization would open gates to wider drug use.

During this week’s trip north of the border, Calderon appeared to have softened his tone, though the vagueness of his wording made it hard to tell. He never mentioned ‘decriminalize’ or ‘legalize.’ His first mention of ‘market alternatives’ came in a speech Tuesday to the Council of the Americas in New York.

Asked on CBS’ ‘Early Show’ the next day if he meant legalization, Calderon did not answer directly.

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‘Either we reduce consumption or we need more alternatives, more solutions, at least to analyze. Among those, of course, we need to include market alternatives,’ the Mexican leader said.

Back home, some Mexicans were scratching their heads at what Calderon was proposing. ‘I don’t know,’ said one drug-war expert. ‘I’m not sure he knows what he meant.’

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-- Ken Ellingwood

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