Border city calls for debate on legalizing drugs

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With violence at unprecedented levels in Juarez, El Paso's City Council took a controversial vote and publically called on the U.S. federal government to start a "serious debate" on legalizing drugs. It came as an amendment to a resolution drafted by the city's border relations committee.

The resolution included 11 recommendations for both the U.S. and Mexican federal governments including tougher penalties for U.S. gun runners who arm Mexican drug cartels, as well as chemical smugglers who supply cartels who cook up meth in mega labs in Mexico. And of course there was the recommendation to focus more on education and rehabilitation to reduce the demand for illegal drugs in this country.

But what if those drugs were legal? Why not debate the issue? Even talk about a discussion prompted a swift veto by the Mayor.

Mayor John Cook worries the resolution will strain relations in Washington and "cloud" all other legislative intiatives. The mayor told me he agrees the current "war on drugs" is a failure but did not want the controversial discussion about legalization to overshadow the resolution. The mayor said, "The entire focus is on the legalization of narcotics. What about the other ten points which are things that are in the resolution that are very doable? They're things that the federal government should focus on."

Calls flooded city hall after the vote and then veto. Representative O'Rourke who introduced the amendment told me "People are glad that the subject is at least being discussed." He's hearing from both those in favor and against the issue but he says most want a national debate over legalization.

"It removes the power from the drug lords and drug cartels that really are in control of cities like Juarez and turns the focus in the U.S. toward treatment, education, rehabilitation and treating our drug problem in the U.S. as a public health issue and not solely as a law enforcement issue," says O'Rourke. It's an opinion I've heard often in Mexico by many --even some lawmakers who argue decriminalize drugs to reduce organized crime.

As drug violence brings Juarez to its knees, El Paso's City Council decided it's time to take a controversial stand.