As Mexico drowns in drug-related bloodshed — suffering almost 12,000 murders in 2010 — it is perhaps unsurprising that government critics have turned up their screaming that the war on drugs isn’t working. But it was a bit of a bombshell when former President Vicente Fox added his voice to the chorus. The cowboy-boot-wearing leader, who ruled Mexico from 2000 to 2006, once declared the “mother of all battles” against crime and rounded up drug kingpins.
But before he left office, he witnessed the first big spike in violence as the narcos retaliated. Last August, evidence surfaced that his vision had changed when he wrote on his blog that prohibition wasn’t working. Now, in an interview with TIME in his hometown in central Mexico, he says his views have indeed moved toward the other end of the spectrum: favoring full-on legalization of the production, transit and sale of prohibited drugs. Fox is most explicit about marijuana but says the principle applies to all illegal drugs.
“Prohibition didn’t work in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple,” says Fox, 68, looking relaxed in a polo shirt — in contrast to his stressful last days in office. “We have to take all the production chain out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of producers — so there are farmers that produce marijuana and manufacturers that process it and distributors that distribute it and shops that sell it … I don’t want to say that legalizing means that drugs are good. They are not good but bad for your health, and you shouldn’t take them. But ultimately, this responsibility is with citizens.”
Taking such a step would go beyond policies pursued anywhere in the world. While nations including Portugal, Holland and Mexico itself have decriminalized the personal possession of many narcotics, traffic and the billions of drug dollars remain firmly in the hands of criminal gangs. Governments have been held back from going the distance to legalize and regulate the trade by rigid U.N. treaties, which oblige all signatories to combat trafficking. Fox, however, argues that nations should not wait for the whole world but plow ahead with reform…
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