Under Pressure, El Paso Lawmakers Drop Legalization Study Call

The city council in El Paso, Texas last week unanimously called for a debate on drug legalization in the face of rising border violence, but backed off its resolution after a mayoral veto and pressure from federal and state lawmakers.

The Houston Chronicle reported Jan. 13 that the El Paso City Council voted 8-0 in favor of a resolution calling for the federal government to engage in an “open, honest, national dialogue on ending the prohibition of narcotics.” The resolution was part of the city’s response to the escalating drug-related violence in neighboring Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.

However, El Paso Mayor John Cook vetoed the resolution, and this week the city council voted 4-4 to uphold the veto. Some council members said they changed their vote because of fears that the legalization language could imperil federal funding for the city.

Those fears were stoked by a letter to the council by five Democratic state representatives, who said the resolution “does not bring the right attention to El Paso. It says ’we give up and we don’t care.’”

Separately, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) called on the council to uphold the veto. “While this resolution is well-intentioned, I believe its passage would be counterproductive to our efforts to enact an ambitious legislative agenda at the federal level,” wrote Reyes.

The letters served to chill debate on the issue, El Paso council members said.

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