The Austin Chronicle

El Paso Council Wants to End the War on Drugs

By Jordan Smith, January 12, 2009, 9:18am, Newsdesk

Although the El Paso city council wants an open and honest discussion about the possibility of ending the drug war, Mayor John Cook wants nothing to do with such talk.

On Jan. 6, the council voted 8-0 to add a provision calling for the open discussion to its 11-point resolution to support its "beleaguered" Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juarez. The resolution calls for solidarity with the people of the city -- where 1,600 were murdered last year -- and condemns the ongoing violence there, much of it related to the illegal drug trade. After the resolution had been approved by elected officials, Council member Beto O'Rourke stepped up with a 12th point to add, suggesting his colleagues "support an open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics." Each council member agreed.

But Cook later vetoed the addition, telling the El Paso Times that the "action of council...undermines the hard work of the [city's Border Relations Committee] by adding new language which may affect the credibility of the entire resolution."

Of course, how it is that calling for a serious debate about prohibition would degrade the impact of the resolution isn't entirely clear. Certainly, offering "solidarity" with the folks in Ciudad Juarez, as the resolution calls for, isn't likely to make drug-related violence there evaporate.

And the mayor's veto has apparently served only to tick off council members, all of whom voted for the measure. O'Rourke told the Times that he was "not advocating the use of illegal drugs," but notes that by every objective standard -- including the "ready availability of almost any drug anyone would want to purchase" -- the War on Drugs has been a "complete failure." Indeed, Council member Steve Ortega told the daily that although he "respected" the mayor's decision, he disagreed with it. "The controversial amendment merely calls for the initiation of a debate regarding the prohibition of does not endorse the legalization of drugs," Ortega said. "Ending cartel related violence in Juarez represents this region's biggest challenge and justifies an all-inclusive dialog concerning potential solutions."

Still, apparently at least one member of the region's Congressional delegation, Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes, is siding with Cook's prohibition on debate, saying he would not support any discussion in Congress regarding drug legalization. Still, O'Rourke said he hopes that the incoming Obama administration and newly-seated Congress would "at least respond" to the call for dialog and give it a "serious airing."

The El Paso Council will vote this week to override Cook's veto.

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