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


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.