Pubdate: Sat, 06 May 2006
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Section: Science and Technology
Copyright: 2006 The Economist Newspaper Limited
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


It was a particularly abrupt and awkward about-turn. On April 28th, 
Mexico's Senate approved, by a vote of 53 to 26, a new law that would 
make possession of small amounts of drugs-both soft and hard-legal 
while stiffening penalties for dealing. On May 2nd President Vicente 
Fox's spokesman called the bill "an advance" and said his boss would 
sign it into law. But just a day later, Mr Fox sent the bill back to 
Congress, requesting changes.

Under the bill, not only would it be legal to have up to 5 grams of 
marijuana, but half a gram of cocaine and 25 milligrams of heroin 
would also be permissible. So would small quantities of LSD, 
amphetamines, ecstasy, mushrooms and peyote (a hallucinogen popular 
with some indigenous tribes).

Supporters of the change hope it will accomplish two things. The 
first is to reduce corruption-at present, officials have discretion 
on whether to prosecute individuals caught with small amounts of 
drugs. The second is to allow police and prosecutors to concentrate 
on drug-trafficking gangs, for which they would have broader powers.

Mr Fox backtracked after American officials joined a chorus of local 
criticism of legalisation. They urged Mexico to review the bill, to 
prevent "drug tourism". Mexico's government has been one of the 
United States' most loyal allies in the "war" on drugs. Under Mr Fox, 
the heads of several of the biggest drug gangs have been arrested. 
But many of their henchmen remain at large. One drug kingpin, Osiel 
Cardenas, is widely believed to continue to run his business from 
inside his jail.

In recent years, drug-related violence has spread across northern 
Mexico. Nuevo Laredo, the most violent of the border towns, has been 
without a police chief since the last man to hold the job resigned in 
March. He wished to leave in a different manner to his predecessor, 
who was murdered. No one else has been willing to take the post.
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