DENVER - Colorado Attorney General John Suthers on Friday said Mexico's attorney general was curious about the state's recent legalization of marijuana, but also skeptical such policies could make a dent in the deadly hold of drug cartels.
"Here's a guy whose country has, frankly, been fighting a battle to help keep drugs out of the United States, thousands of people dying in the process, and here a couple states are legalizing a drug," Suthers said, who returned Wednesday from a trip to Mexico City with the Conference of Western Attorneys General. "They're saying 'if you have such an insatiable appetite for drugs you're asking to legalize them, why should we be doing what we're asked to do?"
Suthers shares that cynicism of Colorado's new marijuana industry, saying the cost of the war on drugs is badly overstated and the risk of introducing American youth to pot is simply not worth the reward of tax revenue.
But the legalization movement seems to be marching forward.
Colorado and Washington State led the way. In December Uruguay became the first nation to legalize marijuana. The issue is being considered in the northern Africa country of Morocco.
In Mexico City there's talk of allowing the sale of small amounts of pot in stores.
The United States had led the international war on drugs for years, often pressuring other countries to step up lax enforcement and prevent the flow of narcotics into the U.S.
Mexico, particularly in recent years, has suffered a devastating loss of life from the violence associated with the drug trade.
But recently, whether it's the blind eye the federal government turned to first medical marijuana and then retail marijuana sales or the president's criticism of the war on drugs, that policy regarding marijuana has been softening.
Suthers said he wasn't surprised to hear Mexico's top lawyer Jesus Murillo Karam say the new Colorado policy will have no impact on cartel activity in the state.
"The cartels will be happy to see that there's likely to be more customers for methamphetamine, heroine, cocaine," Suthers said. "He knows what the research shows, that as you lower the perception of risk among young people you have more marijuana users."
Suthers said Colorado has a large presence of Mexican drug cartels, specifically noting a recent bust of methamphetamine that had been transported across the border in sealed sports drink bottles. If the demand for harder drugs grows, so will the cartels, he said.
Meg Sanders is a marijuana legalization activist for two reasons she said: important alternative medicine and ending a harmful war on drugs.
"Over 50 percent of our prison population is non-violent drug offenders and of that most of them are people of color. It is nothing but systemic racism and I have a huge issue with that," Sanders said.
Often when she runs into lobbyists opposing legalization they are prison lobbyists who stand to lose inmates who are worth up to $100 a night.
"Our prison system is an international embarrassment," she said.
That's the message Sanders said her company Gaia Plant-Based Medicine is trying to bring to the community.
She said legalization is working slowly but surely to bring marijuana industry into the light and legitimize the business associated with it. Her marijuana store has 80 employees now.
Suthers said there are ways to decriminalize marijuana - reduce the criminal charges for possession and sale of pot - without legalizing the drug.
He said with legalization has come advertising and a glorification of marijuana, something that naturally will draw children to feel the drug is harmless.
Contact Megan Schrader
The Associated Press contributed to this report.