Meet the Mexican Congressman Who Wants to Legalize Pot

PHOTO: Mexican Congressman Fernando Belaunzarán [center] will present a new marijuana bill to his countrys parliament on Thursday.

Photo: Fernando Belaunzaran/Facebook

Mexican Congressman Fernando Belaunzarán, in his formal suit and proper tie, doesn't strike people as the kind of person who supports marijuana legalization. The truth is, he doesn't just support it, he's a hardcore champion of it.

On Thursday Belaunzaran will present Mexico's Congress with a bill that would legalize the sale of marijuana – for recreational and health purposes – through distributors that obtain government permits. The proposal would also allow each Mexican citizen to grow up to five plants for personal consumption.

"The context has never been as favorable to rethink our drug strategy," Balaunzaran told ABC/Univision. "We really should bet on a responsible use of private liberty instead of going on with repression."

This is a hard sell in the Mexican Congress, as leaders of the country's two most powerful parties, the PAN and the PRI, have expressed their opposition to legalizing any drug. Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, also said during his campaign that he believed that legalization was not the right answer.

Belaunzaran is a Mexico City congressman for the left-wing PRD party, which means he represents one of the most liberal constituencies in the country. But he thinks his proposal is still worth a shot.

"The power of [Mexico's drug] cartels comes from their almost unlimited incomes so the idea is to take this lucrative market away from the criminals," the Congressman said. "The prohibition paradigm has failed, it has failed to reduce drug use, the black market is as strong as ever and Mexico is experiencing a spiral of violence that cannot be tolerated."

Belaunzaran is not new to these legislative battles. He has been pushing a few marihuana bills since he started working as a political adviser for Victor Hugo Círigo, a member of Mexico City's Assembly. In 2008, Círigo tried to legalize recreational marijuana smoking in Mexico City in an initiative not very different from what Belaunzarán is now suggesting, but failed to garner enough votes to back his cause.

Efforts to legalize Marijuana also failed in Mexico's House of Representatives in 2007 and in the Senate in 2010. But some analysts believe that recent developments in the United States, give Belaunzaran's proposal a chance.

"Obviously the world debate on the subject opened up with [the marijuana referendums in] Washington and Colorado" said Jorge Javier Romero, a political science professor at Mexico City's UNAM University. "[Belaunzaran's proposal] is only the first of a series of initiatives that are going to be presented in the very short term, and the newly elected Mexican government can certainly not avoid the subject anymore and will have to discuss it seriously."

Alejandro Madrazo, a law professor at Mexico's CIDE University, also believes that the referendums in Washington and Colorado will help to liberalize drug policy in Mexico.

"Any serious initiative….will have an opportunity that it couldn't dream [of] having before that," Madrazo said. "I think it is inevitable that Mexico move towards a position of greater opening on that matter, if not at the beginning of Peña Nieto's term, at least during his presidency."

Congressman Belaunzarán is well aware that his bill might not make it through parliamentary debate. However, he still thinks the problem should be put to discussion again and again in Mexico and in Latin America. "Mexico must be part of this change of paradigm, with serious arguments, based on science" he said.

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