By Dave Graham
CHIHUAHUA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico should legalize the export of marijuana after voters in two U.S. states opted to allow possession and sale of the drug for recreational use, an ally of incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said.
Cesar Duarte, governor of Chihuahua, one of the Mexican states worst hit by drugs violence, said the decision on Tuesday by voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington offered a "very clear" hint for Mexico on how to approach marijuana.
"It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports," Duarte told Reuters in an interview. "We would therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals. And which finances criminals."
A conflict between drug gangs and security forces in Mexico has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the six-year rule of outgoing President Felipe Calderon and the country has repeatedly called upon the United States to do more to curb demand for drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
Calderon's frustration with the United States led to a subtle change in his line, and he urged the United Nations in September to lead a debate on exploring a less stringent approach.
Across Latin America, there is a growing view that the prohibitionist policies pushed by Washington for decades are not working and have stirred up too much violence.
Duarte said Mexico's next government, which takes office in December, is weighing alternatives and he expects drug policy to feature in talks between Pena Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in late November.
NEW MEXICAN PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO LEGALIZATION
Pena Nieto's chief advisor Luis Videgaray said on Wednesday that the votes in Washington and Colorado mean Mexico needs to rethink its approach to the trade, though he said the president-elect was opposed to legalization of drugs.
If the state governments of Colorado and Washington institute the changes approved on Tuesday, they will be defying federal law and the government could sue to block key parts of the measure. But it has not yet said how it plans to respond.
Pena Nieto has argued repeatedly against legalizing drugs, although he said shortly after he won election in July that he was willing to debate the issue.
Duarte said Mexico had to make the United States understand the damage its appetite for drugs was doing to its neighbor. "We can't go on suffering for the effects of America's vices," Duarte, a lawyer and Chihuahua state native, said on Wednesday.
Chihuahua is home to Ciudad Juarez, a city on the border with Texas once renowned as the most violent in the world. During the past five years, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives there in carnage between the gangs.
However, the chaos has eased, and Duarte said the number of homicides in Ciudad Juarez was down by over 90 percent last month from October in 2010, the state's toughest year.
Kidnappings in Chihuahua have fallen by more than 60 percent over the same period and violent robberies by more than a third. Only extortion remains a growing problem in the state, rising by more than a fifth from last year, police figures show.
Ironically, the decrease in crime has gone hand in hand with a reduction of the number of police and soldiers deployed in the state. There were nearly 20,000 when Duarte took office two years ago and barely a tenth of that number now.
Rather than helping bring peace, many police and soldiers became part of the problem, security experts say. Duarte said that view went too far. "I can't say they were part of the problem ... But what I can say is that they didn't solve it."
(Editing by Kieran Murray; Editing by David Brunnstrom)