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City condemns Juarez violence: Resolution deletes marijuana reference
[February 10, 2010]

City condemns Juarez violence: Resolution deletes marijuana reference

EL PASO, Feb 10, 2010 (El Paso Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The City Council heard more than two hours of testimony, but in the end backed away from supporting legalized marijuana as a way to combat drug violence in neighboring Juarez.

The council voted 6-2 Tuesday to condemn the violence in Juarez and deleted a paragraph that called for the legalization of marijuana and government regulation of its sale.

City Reps. Beto O'Rourke and Steve Ortega co-wrote the resolution. O'Rourke said he was against deleting the language about marijuana legalization.

He said it was an important part of addressing the ongoing violence in Juarez, which has been responsible for more than 4,500 deaths in the past two years.

About 60 percent of the drug cartels' revenue comes from the sale of marijuana to the United States, he said. Cutting off a significant source of its revenue could prevent the cartels from continuing to "kill and terrorize with impunity," he said.

Ortega, however, said the issue was larger than just marijuana legalization.

"You have an unprecedented murder rate taking place with no end in sight," Ortega said. The aim was to present some ideas on how to help Juarez and end the violence, he said.

The resolution that ended up passing called for a presidential summit on the drug war and for the U.S. government to make it one of its top foreign policy priorities.

The resolution also called for opening up more asylum opportunities for individuals and families who are threatened and fear for their lives in Juarez.

About 20 residents spoke out on the resolution. Some were opposed to the idea of supporting legalized marijuana. Others said this type of resolution isn't the proper role of city government.

About half, however, supported the council in whatever efforts its members take to help neighboring Juarez.

"How can you say we have the safest house in the neighborhood when your neighbor's house is burning down?" El Pasoan Luis Bellman asked.

Ignacio "Nacho" Padilla, a former city representative, said he was dead-set against anything that advocates legalizing marijuana.

Padilla said that Juarez has long ignored its problems with drugs, crime and prostitution.

"That in no way means that we now have to diminish our way of life and our morals to match theirs," Padilla said.

Richard Newton, a retired pilot who worked for Customs and Border Protection for 20-plus years, said the nation's drug war has been a failure.

"The bottom line is the reason you have the cartels fighting each other is to sell drugs to the United States," said Newton, who is a member of the national group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

El Pasoan Rene Nevarez said adopting the resolution won't save any lives in Juarez or prevent any businesses from being extorted.

Tanya Loya, meanwhile, questioned the wisdom in asking to make the drug violence the United States' top foreign policy priority considering the threat posed by al-Qaida. That provision was eventually rewritten at the suggestion of Rep. Rachel Quintana to say the drug war should be one of the federal government's priorities, but not necessarily its top one.

O'Rourke and Ortega's original resolution that included a paragraph on marijuana legalization was defeated by a 5-4 vote with Mayor John Cook breaking the tie.

Reps. Ann Morgan Lilly and Susie Byrd joined Ortega and O'Rourke in voting "yes," while Emma Acosta, Carl L. Robinson, Eddie Holguin Jr. and Quintana were opposed.

The "no" contingent all expressed misgivings about the marijuana legalization clause and asked that it be removed or rewritten.

Holguin suggested that it be deleted, and that's what ended up passing.

Robinson and O'Rourke voted against the compromise.

David Burge may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6126.

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