DENVER (MainStreet) Colorado's Republican Attorney General John Suthers said he recently had a difficult time explaining legalized marijuana to his counterpart in Mexico.
Also See: Marijuana Smuggler's Blues
"Mexicans are paying a very large price, trying to cooperate with U.S. authorities to keep drugs out of the country," Suthers said in an interview with MainStreet. "They want to know, is our appetite for drugs so insatiable that we feel like we need to legalize them? And, if that's the case, why should they be cooperating in trying to keep them out of the country?"
Suthers met with Mexico's Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam last week at a gathering organized by the Conference of Western Attorneys General. The delegation also included attorneys general from California, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, and it also included discussions about other transnational crimes besides drug trafficking. But the Mexican AG was particularly interested in Colorado and it's move to legalize pot, Suthers said.
Suthers said it was difficult to explain why Colorado voted to legalize a drug that international law enforcement has battled against for so long. The usual argument that legalizing marijuana would put the drug cartels out of business doesn't carry much weight in Mexico.
"He's not sure the cartels will get out of the marijuana business," Suthers said of the Mexican AG, "and he knows that the cartels will see this as an opportunity to expand cocaine, meth and heroine, because there will be more young users of marijuana to move on to other drugs."
Suthers's best explanation for the voters in his state is that they saw marijuana legalization as an experiment. And like any experiment, it will need to be tested.
Among the questions Suthers wants answered: what's the impact on overall drug-use rates, and on adolescent drug use rates? Does legalized marijuana encourage more people, and more youths, to use drugs?
The evidence, so far, is anecdotal, but Suthers believes the answer to both questions is yes.
Third-Graders Busted for Toking Pot in Boys' Room
Legalizing marijuana means those selling it can openly advertise it, he said. More advertising, as most consumer product companies have learned, means more sales and more sales means more use. It's a time tested formula: people who see more Coke commercials will drink more Coke.
"For young people, involvement in marijuana is largely a perception of risk, and if we drive the perception of risk into the ground, I believe there will be will be higher rates of usage by young people," Suthers said.
"I'm already hearing from school administrators and teachers that it is pervasive in high schools," he said. "They're catching kids with these vapor pens, smoking pot in class. It's pretty remarkable."
Suthers also wants to know how much legal weed ends up leaving Colorado in violation of the law.
"Law enforcement felt one quarter of medical marijuana has been diverted to other states," he said. " If that rate continues, that's an enormous amount of marijuana that's going to flow to states that have not voted to legalize it."
For the most part, though, the negative effects of marijuana may be not be noticeable for years to come. And if legalization does not prove to be an obvious public policy disaster, Suthers expects it to spread rapidly across the nation.
"This is a very well-organized, well-funded effort," he said. "They'll probably go to the ballot three to five states at a time. I'd be surprised if, it goes the other way."
He sees it as a symptom of an aging democracy.
"I'm a student of history and the rise and fall of civilizations," he said. "We're at a stage in our civilization where people are pretty soft and don't mind divisions such as recreational highs."
Suthers, however, spends a lot of his time and resources helping state agencies, including Colorado's revenue and health departments, to accommodate legalized pot. It's not his place to change the law. He can only offer his opinions on it, and so far his opinion hasn't changed.
"I think it's bad public policy," he said, "but that's the law. The voters have spoken. Let's move on down the road."
--Written by Al Lewis for MainStreet