A supporter of marijuana legalization smokes outside the Supreme Court in Mexico City on Nov. 4, 2015. (Eduardo Verdugo, Associated Press file)

Let’s talk pot: Mexico to hold national public debate on legalization

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto came out strongly against legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, the same day his government announced a national public debate on the issue.

He suggested the recent, informal debate on the issue has already created confusion, even among his own children. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in November that growing, possessing and smoking marijuana for recreation is legal under the right to freedom, but that ruling applied only to the four people involved in the case.

Pena Nieto said Wednesday that one of his own kids asked him “Hey Dad, does that mean I can light up a joint in front of you soon?”

The president said: “No, don’t be confused.”

“I am not in favor of consuming or legalizing marijuana,” Pena Nieto said at a speech announcing a child welfare program. “I am not in favor because it has been proven, demonstrated, that consuming this substance damages the health of children and youths.”

“However, I am in favor of debate, so that specialists can give us some indication of where we should be going,” he said.

Earlier, Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that the government will open a national debate on the use of marijuana, with public sessions to be held in the second half of January. Some debates will be held at four regional forums, and would also be available on the Internet.

The debate will focus on public policy, health and social impact. Mexico has decriminalized possession of very small amounts of marijuana, but activists want to go further, moving toward legalizing recreational and medical uses of pot.

Pena Nieto rejected activists’ claims that legalization would reduce drug cartels’ incomes from the trade.

“It isn’t valid, and I don’t agree, that this legalization would make it easier to fight organized crime, by reducing the illicit income and profits from this activity,” the president said. “That would beg the question, should we put the health of Mexican children and youths at risk in order to combat organized crime?”

Polls show a majority of Mexicans oppose legalization.