Mexico votes to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana
MEXICO CITY – Mexicans would be allowed to possess small amounts of cocaine, heroin, even ecstasy for their personal use under a bill approved by lawmakers that some worry could prove to be a lure to young Americans.The bill now only needs President Vicente Fox’s signature to become law and that does not appear to be an obstacle. His office said that decriminalizing drugs will free up police to focus on major dealers.”This law gives police and prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes that do so much damage to our youth and children,” said Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar.The Senate approved the bill Friday in the final hours of its closing session. Mexico’s lower house had already endorsed the legislation.The measure appeared to surprise U.S. officials. State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said the department was trying to get “more information” about it. One U.S. diplomat, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said “we’re still studying the legislation, but any effort to decriminalize illegal drugs would not be helpful.”Some worried the law would increase drug addiction in Mexico and cause problems with the United States. Millions of American youths visit Mexico’s beach resorts and border towns each year.”A lot of Americans already come here to buy medications they can’t get up there … Just imagine, with heroin,” said Ulisis Bon, a drug treatment expert in Tijuana, where heroin use is rampant.In off-the-record chats and through their communications with U.S. officials, Mexican officials tried to depict the drug bill as a simple clarification of existing laws. But the changes are clear.Currently, Mexican law leaves open the possibility of dropping charges against people caught with drugs if they can prove they are drug addicts and if an expert certifies they were caught with “the quantity necessary for personal use.”The new bill drops the “addict” requirement, allows “consumers” to have drugs, and sets out specific allowable quantities, which do not appear in the current law.Those quantities are sometimes eye-popping: Mexicans would be allowed to posses 2.2 pounds of peyote, the button-sized hallucinogenic cactus used in some Indian religious ceremonies.Police would no longer bother with possession of up to 25 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of marijuana (about one-fifth of an ounce, or about four joints), or 0.5 grams of cocaine – the equivalent of about 4 “lines,” or half the standard street-sale quantity.The law lays out allowable quantities for a large array of other drugs, including LSD, MDA, MDMA (ecstasy, about two pills’ worth), and amphetamines.However the bill stiffens penalties for trafficking and possession of drugs – even small quantities – by government employees or near schools, and maintains criminal penalties for drug sales.Sales of all those drugs would remain illegal under the proposed law, unlike in the Netherlands, where the sale of marijuana for medical use is legal and it can be bought with a prescription in pharmacies.And while Dutch authorities look the other way regarding the open sale of cannabis in designated coffee shops – something Mexican police seem unlikely to do – the Dutch have zero tolerance for heroin and cocaine.Sen. Miguel Angel Navarro of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party argued against the bill. “This authorizes the consumption of opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, and a variety of drugs that can only be bought illicitly.”Roman Catholic Bishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago, president of the Mexican Council of Bishops, also expressed concern.”It’s not by legalizing the possession or use of drugs that drug trafficking is going to be combatted,” the bishop told reporters, “and that’s why the government should be cautious about implementing this measure.”The law comes at a time of heightened tensions over a U.S. proposal for immigration reform, including legalization of many of America’s estimated 11 million undocumented migrants.A demonstration by thousands of Mexican workers Friday to promote union solidarity turned into a protest against America’s vast influence on the nation’s economy, with many protesters saying they will take part in a boycott of U.S. products next week. The proposed boycott is timed to coincide with Monday’s “Day Without Immigrants” protest in the U.S., aimed at pushing Congress to approve the immigration reform.Ethan Nadelmann, director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, said Mexico’s bill removed “a huge opportunity for low-level police corruption.” Mexican police often release people detained for minor drug possession, in exchange for bribes.