Travel

New idea to stem violence in Mexican beach towns: Legal cannabis

Partying in some of Mexico’s top beach destinations could get a boost — and possibly turn a bit more mellow — as officials mull the idea of legalizing marijuana in hot spots like Cancun and Los Cabos.

Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid, generally considered a fairly buttoned-up guy, said at an event Thursday that making sales and consumption legal could help curb the drug-related violence that’s plagued both locations and led to a temporary drop in visitors. Tourism brings $20 billion a year into Mexico, making it among the top three sources of foreign currency.

In this March 10, 2012 photo, people hang out on the beach during spring break in Cancun, Mexico. (AP Photo/Israel Leal)

Tourists “already bring it or buy it,” he said, according to a report in the newspaper Milenio. “What can’t be justified is that someone ends up in jail because he consumes marijuana. What is not justified is that he becomes the victim of extortion because he consumes marijuana. It is an absurdity.”

For now, De la Madrid’s proposal seems like nothing more than that — there’s no legislation pending and President Enrique Pena Nieto seems unlikely to push for it before elections in July. The ministry’s press office didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.

But it speaks to the dilemma officials face as they try to crack down on gangs operating in the tourist hot spots, with gun battles not only scaring away visitors but also causing more violence when the takeout of one drug dealer spurs competition for his former territory. As shootouts in nightclubs increase, and mutilated bodies turn up on the streets, the U.S. State Department now tells visitors to Cancun and Los Cabos to “exercise increased caution.”

Last year, hotel occupancy in Cancun dropped 10 percent during the traditionally busy spring-break period while Los Cabos also saw a decline in bookings. The slump seems an anomaly given global growth in tourism and a relatively weak peso that would normally draw in more visitors.

“At least in the tourist areas, we should legalize the use of marijuana,” De la Madrid said, according to Milenio. “Making legal not only the consumption but also the production and sale of marijuana would contribute, along with other actions, to having safer destinations.”


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