Drug Policy

The Main Problem With Mexican-Style Decriminalization: It Doesn't Go Far Enough

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The range of opinion reflected in an online New York Times debate about the impact of Mexico's new drug law is revealing: Only two out of five participants are mainly critical of the change, which eliminates criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs, and one of them, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, objects because he thinks the "decriminalization" is a crackdown in disguise: 

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.

The other critic of Mexico's new policy, Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation, comes across (as usual) as a bit unhinged, but she does raise a legitimate point in response to those who want to distinguish between drug-user "victims" and drug-dealer "predators":

Drug users are not innocent. They support the vicious drug cartels. Without their demand for drugs, the supply side has no purpose.

In other words, drug users create drug dealers, not the other way around. But this point does not seem to jibe with Fay's own advocacy of expanding mandatory "treatment" for putatively sick (rather than bad) drug users. And when she blames drug use, as opposed to prohibition, for the link between drug trafficking and terrorism, she loses all credibility.

The rest of the participants—Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Foundation, University of Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter, and University of Texas at El Paso political scientist Tony Payan—welcome Mexican decriminalization as a modest step in the right direction, while noting that it does not address the violence, disorder, and corruption associated with the black market.

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  1. I wasn’t aware that Calvina Fay had any credibility to lose.

  2. …while noting that it does not address the violence, disorder, and corruption associated with the black market.

    Half a loaf is better than none, but no one should expect the prolems created by prohibition to cease until manufacturing and distribution is legalized with appropriate regulations.

  3. former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, objects because he thinks the “decriminalization” is a crackdown in disguise

    Let me put this in perspective for those more accustomed to English Common Law. Mexico’s law system follows a Napoleonic code, which requires a defendant to show attenuating or exonerating evidence for any given accusation, or in order words, it places the burden of proof not only on the prosecution but also on the accused. This means that a person can be arrested WITHOUT EVIDENCE, and then both the prosecutor and the defendant state their cases in front of a judge.

    This new law would then place the burden of proof on the user to demonstrate he or she carries the lawful quantity of drug, and not on the police officers to show cause. This would mean a drug user would have to go before a judge and convince him (or her) that the quantity being carried complies with the guidelines in the law. This is more than a mere nuisance – Mexican judges are pretty unpredictable, being overtly liberal in some instances, and terribly fascistic in others (may also depend on how big a handout you give, of course…)

    So I totally agree with Casta~eda – this su-called depenalization is nothing of the sort. A true depenalization would place NO limits on how much drug you carry, period.

  4. I don’t think it kills all credibility to establish a link between users and the evils committed by their dealers. Yes, the prohibition creates the right conditions to establish that link but, the user still voluntarily chooses to contribute money to a criminal organization.

  5. the user still voluntarily chooses to contribute money to a criminal organization.

    So does every taxpayer

  6. Stretchy,

    Would you agree that the organization that provides the drug is criminal only because drugs are illegal, and not because of anything inherently wrong with supplying drugs to users?

    Because thinking that drug use is bad because it feeds a criminal enterprise is indulging in question begging – the only reason for thinking the seller is a criminal is because you accept as valid the premise that drug selling is illegal.

    Not so long ago, as a matter of fact, just 80 years ago, it was perfectly legal to buy heroin over the counter for toothaches. Was the link between the user and the seller just as perfidious as today? It would have to be if you want to remain logically consistent, otherwise if you assume the prohibition is valid to conclude the user is indulging in evil is a classic example of Begging the Question, or Circular Thinking, i.e. a logical fallacy.

  7. Not so long ago, as a matter of fact, just 80 years ago, it was perfectly legal to buy heroin over the counter for toothaches. Was the link between the user and the seller just as perfidious as today? It would have to be if you want to remain logically consistent, otherwise if you assume the prohibition is valid to conclude the user is indulging in evil is a classic example of Begging the Question, or Circular Thinking, i.e. a logical fallacy.

    There’s a distinction in that the user today displays willingness to perform illegal activity, which the user then did not.

  8. Calvina “Straight Inc.” Fay’s support of “drug courts” is quite enough for me to oppose them.

  9. Good grief,
    I’ve met people that have grow clubs out west like people have brew clubs these days.
    Give it up already.
    Obviously it should (almost) all be made fully legal.
    What is needed is some sympathetic figures to come up. Pot right now needs people like Jim Koch of Sam Adams beer or Mondavi was to wine.
    Get the public thinking of drug manufacturer and distributor as NORMAL, honest members of society.

    It’s ironic the bashing of tobacco companies that goes on, when there are ethical businesses like Nat Sherman or American Spirit.

    I feel some Spooner comming on…

  10. Robert,

    There’s a distinction in that the user today displays willingness to perform illegal activity, which the user then did not.

    And? Is the prohibition valid, or not?

  11. Robert,

    The point is not the willingness of people to commit illegal acts (which are illegal only by virtue of a State making them illegal, not because of an inherent evilness in themselves), but if the ACT of purchasing and using narcotics in itself was just as evil back when it was not prohibited, in the same manner detractors say it is today. The willingness of breaking the law is not indicative of the evilness of the act of using drugs in itself, only of the fact that the cost of using drugs has risen.

  12. Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation: “Drug users are not innocent. They support the vicious drug cartels. Without their demand for drugs, the supply side has no purpose.”

    I think we’ve found the identity of “Juanita”. J sub D, here is the woman of your dreams.

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