In 2009, more El Pasoans were killed in Juarez than in El Paso. That’s according to some local leaders who have consistently urged the federal government to revamp U.S. drug policy.
One of their ideas is to legalize marijuana, and this time, they have a different plan to get President Obama’s attention.
El Paso City Representative Beto O’Rourke says he’s not giving up. He and a group of academics, civic leaders, and regular residents want the drug war to stop, and they admit their measures are controversial, but hope this petition can make it to the president’s desk. However, it’s not happening without a fight.
There were strong words in south El Paso, just feet away from the border, where dozens of people held posters and demanded change.
State Representative Marisa Marquez said, “We have thousands and thousands of people who have died at the hands of these drug cartels and it’s time that we take action.”
One of the petition’s supporters faced off with Vincent Perez, the press secretary for U.S. Representative Sylvestre Reyes. “Defending a system that winds up killing our neighbors over here, that’s what you guys ought to be concerned about. You tell your congressman that he needs to get on the right side of this…” the supporter said.
Perez responded, “Sir, we have a difference of opinions.”
The supporter continued, “…because this is a movement that’s growing and we’re going to get him out of office.”
“I’ll pass that message along,” said Perez.
The community leaders and residents sent a strong message, saying they’re not hippies or potheads. The petitioners want more substance abuse facilities, as well as a well-funded educational campaign warning against the use of drugs by connecting them to cartel-related terror.
In addition, the petitioners want to regulate and tax marijuana sales in the U.S., provide social and economic aid to Mexico, and for the U.S. to consider asylum to border violence victims.
But critics of the plan say the cartels adapt. “You increase the price of the product in the U.S. domestic market, which is going to provide an opportunity to the drug cartels to smuggle in billions of dollars of marijuana at a cheaper price,” said Perez.
City Representative Beto O’Rourke countered, “With all due respect, the policies coming out of Washington D.C. are precisely the ones that have led to the terror we have seen in Juarez.”
Petitioners claim that terror has led to the closure of 11,000 Borderland businesses.
City Representative Susie Byrd said, “(The) biggest tragedy is that you have a city, where growing up, you could walk around and feel safe, but people do not feel safe walking around in their neighborhoods, and for me, that’s a fundamental right,” adding, “We need action and we need it now, and we need to begin to put the pressure.”
Perez said, “The notion that legalizing marijuana is going to reduce the violence in Mexico is really a stretch.”
As of Monday afternoon, the petition had been signed by nearly 100 people. If you’d like to see the petition, it’s located on KVIA.com’s Hot Button.