Photo: NIDA

By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE

An interesting dichotomy has been going on in Mexico since the summer of 2020 at the intersection of Mexico City’s two most prominent avenues: Reforma and Insurgentes.

The large white building on that corner is the Mexican Senate, both the symbol and space to deliberate and pass laws that take into account the common good of all citizens, as well as modifying existing legislation.

So why has there been a festival-like atmosphere in the park on the corner where several hundred people gather every afternoon and evening to smoke marijuana, a sort of Woodstock with no music?

The eyes of the tourists walking down the sidewalk get big as it is impossible to not inhale the smoke, knowing that illegal activity is taking place, as the consumers are snubbing their noses at the very symbol of the rule of law, the Senate.

“Why don’t the police arrest them if marijuana has not been legalized?” one tourist asked.

Like many things in Mexico, there might be more going on below the surface than what is being observed.

There are four police officers on the corner, day and night, outside the encampment with their cruiser. Sometimes the best source of information, or at worst, to just get some perspective, comes from those closest to the action.

Granted, as a senior citizen, I could have wandered into the encampment of 400 teens and 20-somethings to chit-chat, but it was obvious what was going on.

So I was more interested in getting the perspective of the four police officers off to the side of the encampment.

Anyone with any time in Mexico knows that not much happens here spontaneously. What is seen with the naked eye is orchestrated, crafted, and planned. If the government wanted this encampment of illegal activity to be gone, it could happen in less than an hour.

So what is really going on?

“Hi officers, how are you guys doing? Some time for a few quick questions?” I asked.

“Sure, time we have plenty of,” came their response.

“I’m curious to know what your marching orders are regarding this encampment and the obvious illegal activity, and especially, if you are the authority, why you are permitting illegal activity?” I asked.

“Let’s be careful with words,” one of the officers said. “We are not ‘permitting’ illegal activity. Let me reframe how we have been instructed to approach this. This encampment is viewed by the government as a political protest and it is. The very place, outside the Senate, is a message by the protestors that they want marijuana legalized. They are citizens, too. There are 400 of them and four of us. Yes, we can have back up here, if needed, in less than two minutes. We know smoking marijuana in public (and technically still in private) places is illegal. We tolerate what is happening here. We require the smokers to remain in this quadrant of the park.”

“Ok, maybe some will get that, but you must have drug sales, here which if over certain amounts is a felony (delito grave),” I said.

“Obviously both the government, as well as us as officers know there are sales taking place. Where do you think that so many people are going to get their pot?” came back the officer. “Our role is to contain, take action if there is violence, arms or smoking outside of the perimeter. We do not enter and never once has a smoker been disrespectful to us. They know we are here and we know they are there.”

“So is it a cat and mouse game?” I continued.

“Not really,” the officer said. “The smokers here are typically peaceful. It’s more like a party or festival atmosphere for them and pretty boring for us. The issue is not about a bunch of kids on the street corner. It’s about a government that is not sure how to have a work-around for marijuana legalization and the pressure from cartels on lost profits when the government eventually is the regulator. This is just a government stall tactic. The kids, and I guess us, are basically pawns to buy time.”

“So it’s more like kids from three or four schools are having recess all in the same place and the four of you have been sent to watch the recess yard?” I asked.

“Yes, I think you are finally understanding what is really happening here,” the officer said. “You have to look below the surface.”

“Thanks officers, have a good night,” I said.

“You, too,” they said.

And I was on my way.

 

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