What Does Mexico’s New Drug Law Portend?

What Does Mexico’s New Drug Law Portend?The New York TimesSeptemeber 12, 2009By The EditorsMexico last month adopted a law that has been described as decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and harder drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Other countries in Latin America are considering similar changes in their laws, prompting antidrug groups in the U.S. to say that pressure from south of the border will push the United States toward decriminalization, if not legalization, of drugs. What effect will the new policy will have in Mexico and, possibly, in the United States? Will it draw so-called drug tourists from across the border? Is the Obama administration doing the right thing by taking a wait-and-see attitude, in contrast to the Bush administration’s strong opposition to a similar plan proposed in Mexico in 2006? What Decriminalization?By Jorge Castañeda The recently approved new “drug” law in Mexico is in fact not a step toward decriminalization, but rather toward mandatory sentencing. Until last month, possession of small (unspecified) amounts of drugs was not a criminal offense in Mexico; only the sale or purchase was. The new law establishes a minuscule limit on legal possession, meaning that today, almost anyone caught carrying any drug is subject to arrest, prosecution and jail. If anything, the new law criminalizes drug use much more radically than before, and it is probably for this reason that President Calderón signed it, and that the Obama administration has looked the other way. It will almost certainly not attract US “drug tourists” to Mexico, since the risk of being arrested for possession has grown considerably with the new law, whereas before, the real risk was just a shake-down by the authorities.The law actually is part of a campaign to justify President Calderón’s war of choice on drugs by stating that drug consumption in Mexico has increased over the past 10 years. But the government’s own unpublished but leaked National Addiction Survey for 2008 shows that this is not the case. The growth of marijuana, heroin and metaphetamine consumption is flat in all categories (addiction, occasional use, at least once in a lifetime use), and while cocaine addiction, for example, did rise from 300 000 victims in 2002 to 450 000 in 2008 (a 50% increase, or roughly 6% per year), it did so from a tiny baseline, for a tiny percentage (0.4%) of Mexico’s population, a much smaller share than for the US, Western Europe and practically every country in Latin America.Mexico should move toward decriminalization, but it cannot do so if the United States does not. Among the many reasons is the so-called Zurich effect, i.e., what occurred in the Swiss city in the 80’s and 90’s when it was one of only a couple of European towns that had legalized virtually all drug use, and consequently attracted thousands of users from across Europe, eventually forcing the city to shut down its “needle park” and abrogate decriminalization.If the current movement toward legalized medical use of marijuana and/or decriminalization prospers and expands in the U.S., Mexico will be able to move in the same direction, and perhaps reduce the tremendous cost the war on drugs is imposing on Mexican society, without any visible results or hope for success.

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