Never Really Been but I'd Sure Like to Go


Mexican President Vicente Fox says he will sign a bill passed by the Mexican Congress last week that will decriminalize possession of small amounts of various illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, opium, heroin, amphetamines, MDMA, LSD, and peyote. Originally intended to keep addicts out of jail, the legislation was later broadened to cover all adult consumers. It eliminates criminal penalties for amounts below the drug-specific thresholds, but states could impose their own fines, and public consumption and sales would remain illegal.

On the face of it, the new policy looks like a substantial improvement. According to the Los Angeles Times, the law "would be among the most permissive in the world, putting Mexico in the company of the Netherlands." The Dutch government tolerates the retail sale of cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms but bans possession and sale of most of the drugs covered by the Mexican law. But in addition to liberalizing treatment of drug users, the law expands the drug enforcement powers of local police–including the power to stop drug users and make sure their stashes are below the legal limits–and increases penalties for selling drugs near schools.

One positive sign: The U.S. government is upset. "Any country that embarks on policies that encourage drug use will get more drug use and more drug addiction," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Many countries, including the U.S. and Mexico, see the drug problem as a trafficking problem. But the real problem isn't trafficking, it's drug use. The costs of drug addiction are staggering."

Riley has a point, although it's rather strange to hear a U.S. drug warrior make it, since federal and state laws in this country routinely treat selling drugs as a worse crime than using them. If drug use is the evil the law is aimed at preventing, punishing sellers more severely than users is rather like punishing murder accomplices more severely than murderers.