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Former White House Drug Czar Offers Marijuana Legalization Advice To Mexico

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A former top White House drug official told Mexican officials last week that they will need “robust regulations” in place when the country implements a legal marijuana system.

Gil Kerlikowske, who served as the director of the the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama, made the comments during a panel hosted by the Mexican Senate as part of a series of cannabis conversations lawmakers are holding as the country prepares to enact legalization.

He also acknowledged that state-level legalization in the U.S. has reduced the “appetite” for drugs that are trafficked illegally across the border.

The official’s participation is particularly noteworthy given that he previously said that the word “legalization” was not even in his vocabulary, nor in Obama’s. But according to translated reports of his speech, Kerlikowske, who also served as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, now seems decidedly familiar with the concept and offered detailed advice for Mexican lawmakers as they prepare to legalize.

“Tax collection is important because income is used for health and to enforce the law,” he said. “In other words, the marijuana consumer is paying the regulation in taxes, so this is a dynamic and emerging market.”

“I think that frankly, although the taxation can be prohibitive for some people and for some producers, I would say that you still have to have a very robust regulation,” the former drug czar added.

Kerlikowske stressed that measures must be taken to ensure that young people don’t have access to marijuana and that policymakers should “do everything possible to eliminate the black market.”

“I believe that governments want to do things slowly—particularly because there is still research being carried out about marijuana and use and the problems it causes in brain formation or decision-making,” he said, adding that alcohol and cannabis shouldn’t be viewed as “benign” products.

He also said that regulating marijuana should involve enforcing labeling and packaging standards so that consumers are fully informed and that steps should be taken to prevent smoking in public.

The event was the last in a five-part “Heading for the Regulation of Cannabis” series that the Senate put together as the chamber’s ruling MORENA party readies legislation to legalize marijuana.

After deeming the prohibition of cannabis possession and cultivation for personal use unconstitutional last year, Mexico’s Supreme Court set a deadline of October 2019 for lawmakers to codify marijuana legalization policy.

Earlier this month, Sen. Julio Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party filed a bill that would provide for a legal cannabis market for adults by amending federal drug laws.

While legalization is imminent in Mexico, however, Kerlikowske said that he does not believe that the U.S. will legalize within the next two years, stating that the “problem is that medicinal cannabis products have not passed all the tests of the [Food and Drug Administration].”

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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