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As U.S. pot laws evolve, some Mexicans question their policy

Mexican soldiers burn marijuana plants found amid a field of blue agave - the plant used for the production of tequila - in El Llano, Hostotipaquillo, Jalisco State, Mexico on Sept. 27, 2012. Members of the Mexican military conducted an operation in the area where so far they have destroyed 40 hectares of marijuana plantations and burned more than 50 tons of plants.

In a few days, Enrique Peña Nieto will move into the presidential palace and his security policy will become the law of the land -- including the war on drugs.   That's led to deadly clashes between cartels and Mexican security forces.

"It's a war," says Jorge Javier Romero, a professor of political science at Mexico's Autonomous Metropolitan University. "It's not a Mexican war. It's an international war. It's an American war."

An estimated 60,000 people have died and billions of dollars have been spent fighting drug cartels. But now that Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana, the game's changed, says top Mexican official Luis Videgaray.

"This is a product that is illegal in Mexico," says Videgaray. "We try to stop it from being transferred to the United States. But the United States at least some part some parts of it now has a different legal status. I think that forces us to rethink our security policies."

Videgaray says there are no plans to legalize marijuana in Mexico. So security forces are instructed to destroy drug plantations, like one they found in Baja California last year. 

Clearly, plenty gets through. Experts here say Mexican marijuana makes up as much as two-thirds of the pot smoked in the U.S. And some in Mexico's pot-growing regions fear Colorado and Washington could displace their product. They want a legal way to export the drug.

Don't hold your breath, says Alejandro Hope of the think tank Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, but, "if there is full legalization, could there be Mexican export to the U.S.? Yes probably."

More immediately, political scientist Jorge Javier Romero says legalization could help end Mexico's protracted war on drugs.

"The money that the cartels have is going to be reduced," he says. "So they are going to have less money to have weapons and to have armies. So the violence in the long term is going to be reduced."

Then he says the money Mexico now spends battling the cartels could be used to rebuild the country instead.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.

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