In the 1940s, one doctor had the idea of curing addiction by legalizing drugs in Mexico. After six months, and some success, the entire project was abandoned. Luis Gerardo Méndez is digging into where the idea came from and why it was abandoned in a new podcast.
Luis Gerardo Méndez and his friends are exploring the time when Mexico legalized drugs.
It was 1940 and the Mexican government legalized all drugs. Doctors were able to prescribe their patients drugs in a methodical way to slowly get addicts off of drugs. Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra is credited with creating the program that showed success during the short time that it was allowed to be.
Gerardo learned about Dr. Salazar only recently and is excited to be able to tell the story of the Mexican doctor. The actor is a little shocked that more people do not know about the doctor who could have changed the course of history had he been allowed to proceed.
“I was immediately hooked on the story because I had no idea that that happened. To be honest with you, 99 percent of the people that I know in Mexico have no idea that drugs were legal in the ‘40s,” Gerardo admits. “It was really interesting for me, not just for the story but I was really intrigued about why we don’t know about this. Why didn’t anyone that I know know about this doctor and the incredible work that he did 80 years ago? He was a doctor who was 80 years ahead of his time and the world.”
Gerardo promises, without revealing spoilers, just how the U.S. managed to undercut the medical program.
The U.S. was not happy with Mexico experimenting with this kind of legaliztion. The host hints at talking about Harry Anslinger, the First Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He held the position from 1930 to 1962 and, according to Gerardo, he placed some pressure on Mexico to re-evaluate the program.
“You, as the audience, in a way, realize that the legalization in Mexico ended because of the pressure from the U.S.,” Gerardo says. “The U.S. was putting a lot of pressure on Mexico telling them that they can’t do this about the legalization effort. Now, marijuana is legal in the U.S. and in Mexico we are still having this conversation. I’m pissed. Its not cool. I think it is really important to talk about these things.”
Despite the president supporting the measure, it was rolled back after six months.
The program was helping people get medical attention for their addiction issues and started to curb criminal activity around drugs. The cartels were losing business because addicts and drug users could seek proper medical attention from doctors to get their drugs for free.
Part of the program involved slowly weening people off of their drug addiction. It got people back into a healthier lifestyle while getting them back into the job market.
While Gerardo stops short of endorsing legalizing marijuana today, he is interested in showing people all sides of the conversation. The host splits his time between Mexico City and LA and has seen the marijuana industry take off in the U.S. but not in Mexico. He feels frustrated that the conversation in Mexico hasn’t advanced to the same place where the U.S. is.
“The same people doing that work in Mexico are criminals because someone behind a desk is saying what it legal and what’s not. Especially when this system proves that it works in the U.S. It is making millions of dollars in taxes for schools, for public health, and in Mexico we are still thinking about it,” Gerardo says about the difference in the U.S. and Mexico round marijuana legalization. “I think, again, I’m not saying whether I am in favor or not. I’m just saying that it is really important for me to expose these points of view and open a conversation for the mainstream.”
For Gerardo, telling the story is a point of pride in his Mexican heritage.
“The other thing is that sometimes in the world, we have an idea of all of these progressive ideas come from Europe or they come from the U.S.,” Gerardo says. “Yet, this Mexican doctor had this idea, this really really interesting and strong point of view 80 years ago and no one listened. No one listened to him. For me, I feel really proud to share the story of this man because I think he, in a way, is a hero. He was pretty close to stopping the drug cartel war.”
Dr. Salazar was a visionary of his time. His work to legalize drugs and work to treat drug addiction like a mental and physical health issue was promising. We have seen this same stance done in Portugal decades after Mexico tried it with the same positive results.
“It’s so incredible that we are hearing about this doctor, now, 80 years after this extraordinary things. He was one of the most polemic figures in Mexico and in the United Nations because of his way of thinking,” Gerardo says. “What I thought was really interesting and sad is that we are hearing about this guy 80 years later. He made some really powerful people really pissed and they erased him from the story.”
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