By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's Congress opened a three-day debate Monday on the merits of legalizing marijuana for personal use, a policy backed by three former Latin American presidents who warned that a crackdown on drug cartels is not working.
Although President Felipe Calderon has opposed the idea, the unprecedented forum shows legalizing marijuana is gaining support in Mexico amid brutal drug violence.
Such a measure would be sure to strain relations with the United States at a time when the two countries are stepping up cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking. The congressional debate — open to academics, experts and government officials — ends a day before President Barack Obama arrives in Mexico for talks on the drug war.
Proponents had a boost in February when three former presidents — Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando Cardoso of Brazil — urged Latin American countries to consider legalizing the drug to undermine a major source of income for cartels.
The congressional discussion takes on a subject "that had been taboo" in our country, said opposition lawmaker Javier Gonzalez, adding that his Democratic Revolution Party supports legalizing personal marijuana consumption.
"What we don't want is to criminalize youths for consuming or possessing marijuana," he said.
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