Members of Mexico's Marines participate in the destruction of cocaine, marijuana and psychoactive pills in Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, on September 20. File Photo by David Guzmán/EPA-EFE
MEXICO CITY, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Mexico's incoming president is preparing to drastically change the country's drug policy in an effort fight organized crime and the soaring murder rate.
Alejandro Encinas, who will serve as deputy interior minister for human rights under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, laid out the strategy this week at a conference in Mexico City for drug policy reformers from across Latin America and the Caribbean.
The plan includes the legalization and regulation of cannabis and a willingness to turn opium poppies from an illicit crop to a legal one. On Wednesday, Mexico's Supreme Court legalized cannabis for all uses.
"The prohibitionist approach has failed," Encinas said. "It hasn't just failed in terms of fighting drugs. Today there is more production, more consumption, with the types of drugs on offer multiplying. The average age of first drug consumption has dropped and we have seen criminal groups' power rise, taking us to new levels of violence and insecurity."
The new administration would treat drugs as a health and human rights issue -- part of López Obrador's "Fourth Transformation" platform to bring about change when he assumes office Dec. 1.
Current policy has only empowered organized crime, Encinas said, and resulted in more than a quarter of a million homicides, 38,000 disappeared people, 1,050 clandestine graves, 26,000 unidentified bodies, and another 250,000 people forcibly displaced.
The year 2017 was the country's most violent since standardized record keeping of homicides began two decades ago.
Regulation alone may not necessarily stem the violence, he said, but it will "attack one phenomenon most damaging to society," Encinas said.
Encinas, a former senator, said prohibition has strengthened criminal groups and forced their diversification.
"There's extortion, charging turf fees, kidnappings, and other crimes, and the big organized criminals are now the ones who just organize local criminal groups to commission other crimes," he said.
Ana Pecova, a women's rights activist, told the conference that the drug war has reduced life expectancy in Mexico and changed the nature of violence against women.
In 2010, the average life expectancy in Mexico was 76.68 years, dipping to 76.25 years in 2011, and only returned to the previous high in 2014, according to World Bank data.
More women are dying in the streets, Pecova said.
"Deaths of women by firearms in public places now occur in greater number than violence against women in the home, which is where women have traditionally faced more violence," she said.
Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, deputy foreign minister for multilateral affairs and human rights in President Enrique Pena Nieto's outgoing administration, lent support at the conference to the new approach to drug policy.
"Cannabis is not the same thing as fentanyl," Ruiz said, "So there is a need to differentiate in the approach. Cannabis is fairly simple to regulate, just look at Canada or Uruguay."
But, Ruiz said, regulation does not mean less state presence.
"Regulation means more state presence. If we want to advance, we have to understand how the state will be more present in drug regulation and you must build coalitions with diverse groups.
"If we do this," Ruiz said, "the world will be a less violent place for future generations."
The conference was sponsored by George Soros's Open Society Foundations, the German Social Democrats' Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Organization of American States.