by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
April 29, 2006
MEXICO TO ALLOW PERSONAL USE OF MOST ILLICIT DRUGS
MEXICO CITY, April 28, 2006 -- In a decision that may reverse the flow of immigrants overnight, the Mexican Senate voted late Thursday night to allow small amounts of marijuana, opium, heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, peyote, LSD and up to two pounds of hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms for personal use, while crafting a new drug reform law with severe penalties for traffickers of larger quantities.
The Senate passed the law 52-36 after reforms newly approved by the government were passed by the lower house of Mexico's Congress earlier in the week.
"This law provides more judicial tools for authorities to fight crime," a spokesman for Mexico's president said Friday.
According to the Reuters news agency, the law - which Mexican President Vicente Fox is expected to sign soon - came "as a shock" to the United States.
"I would say any law that decriminalizes drugs is not very helpful," a U.S. Embassy spokesperson, Judith Bryan, told the news agency. "Drugs are dangerous. We don't think it is the appropriate way to go."
Currently, tens of thousands of Americans visit Mexico each year to obtain heroin, marijuana, mushrooms and cocaine, sometimes risking harsh sentences and a stay in one of the country's dangerous prisons. Now, amounts of such drugs ranging from 5 grams of marijuana (.1765 of an ounce, or four "joints") - to 500 milligrams of cocaine (about .17 of an ounce, or four "lines") and a similar amount of opium, and up to 25 milligrams of heroin (.00088 of an ounce) can legally be possessed for personal use. If the experience of the 1960s is any guide, recreational drug users by the millions could flood Mexico to take advantage of the new laws.
Currently, Mexican judges decide what penalties to impose for possession of small amounts of such drugs on a case-by-case basis. Under the new law, people who possess more than the allowed quantities will automatically be deemed drug traffickers and face more severe penalties than before, Reuters said.
"The object of this law is to not put consumers in jail, but rather those who sell and poison," said a member of the ruling National Action Party, Sen. George Zermeno.
Reuters said a delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives went to Mexico last week to discuss drug control issues and was not informed of changes in Mexican law then underway. The report quoted Michelle Gress, counsel to a House subcommittee who was part of the Congressional delegation, as saying "We were not informed."
In some respects, the law creates more questions than it answers. One is how users will obtain drugs if not from traffickers. Another is whether a large American drug subculture will form a permanent part of the Mexican landscape. A third is whether the new law will undermine costly years of anti-drug education conducted by schools, agencies and organizations throughout the United States.
Finally, due to Mexico's close proximity and a long history of decriminalization movements in California, the Mexican law may influence the decriminalization of drugs other than marijuana, which was decriminalized for personal use by the state years ago. Currently, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a non-criminal offense subject to a $100 fine.
The Mexican government has struggled with drug-related violence for decades. In the past 20 years, dozens of journalists, judges, elected officials, policemen and soldiers, along with thousands of innocent people, have been killed - including the Archbishop of Tijuana, who was murdered by Mexican traffickers on U.S. soil after he was mistaken for a drug kingpin - and tens of thousands injured in a largely fruitless war against drug traffickers that has undermined Mexico's criminal justice system. Corruption at all levels, even in Mexico's armed forces, has made prosecution of recreational users a burden on the courts and hindered effective action against large traffickers, Mexican officials say.
Yet another question raised by the new law is whether it was intended to anger the United States, which has explicitly opposed decriminalization even of marijuana, in response to the current American crackdown on illegal immigrants, most of who are from Mexico. Mexican officials insist they had no such intention and only wanted to improve efficiency of the courts and free resources for the battle against drug lords.