California, a state famous for being a pioneer in liberalizing social action, has given up the pursuit of its openness and rejected the legalization of marijuana.

Proposition 19 would have allowed limited cultivation and consumption of cannabis to people over 21 years of age. In hindsight, it was probably a premature proposal, and without a doubt it was a gamble of enormous depth. Hence the decision taken by the people of California on Tuesday was greeted with relief by the U.S. and Mexican federal authorities, who feared a contagion effect and have since renewed their vows in the joint fight against drug trafficking.

Mexico is beginning to resemble a failed state because narco-trafficking is bleeding into and corrupting all sections of the country; California is the main destination of illegal goods. The impotence with which the governments and citizens are attempting to address this dramatic conflict – narco-violence has claimed 10,000 victims this year alone – has once again raised the debate of legalization of drugs. Intellectuals, experts on the subject, lawyers, economists and former presidents such as Ernesto Zedillo, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, César Gaviria and Felipe González all call for a change in strategy at a global level. The legalization of drugs, proponents say, will not reduce the adverse effects to human health when consumed, but, among other benefits, will financially strangle the mafias that generate so much violence.

Between 50 and 60 percent of Mexico's drug business comes from marijuana. Legalization across the border would have had an impact on their business. If California had approved Proposition 19, the state would have collected an additional $1.3 billion a year in cannabis taxation. This proposition would have made California more than just the Netherlands of America. The liberal spearhead in a country dedicated to the repression of narcotics trafficking, California would have begun a path impossible to travel alone but that would have forced international agencies to raise the debate on a scientific foundation.

The lack of previous experiences certainly does not facilitate this task, but the magnitude of the problem and the failure of repressive politics make it necessary. The fact that California has voted 'no' is just a postponement of this debate.