HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mexico Close to Legalizing Drug Use
Pubdate: Sat, 29 Apr 2006
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2006 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Dane Schiller, Express-News Mexico Bureau
Note: Staff Writers Guillermo Contreras in San Antonio, Mariano 
Castillo in Laredo, and Lisa Sandberg in Austin contributed to this report.
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


MEXICO CITY -- When it comes to drugs, this nation's reputation is 
more like violence-scarred Colombia than party-crazed Amsterdam.

But many here and in the United States were left scratching their 
heads and wondering if that could change Friday after the Mexican 
Congress passed legislation permitting personal-use quantities of 
marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs.

There would be no criminal prosecution for those carrying or using 
small amounts of the drugs under the bill. It lacked only a signature 
by President Vicente Fox, who apparently supports the reforms.

Under the law, it would be legal to possess up to 5 grams of 
marijuana, 500 milligrams of cocaine and 25 milligrams of heroin, 
according to a statement released by Mexico's House and Senate.

A typical packet of sugar substitute holds 1 gram.

Observers say the bill appears designed to allow authorities to 
concentrate anti-drug efforts on bigger fish. It would permit local 
police -- rather than just federales -- to pursue drug cases.

It remains to be seen how such a law would impact crime, as users 
still would need to buy drugs, which would remain illegal.

And should drug use increase because of the lessened threat of 
arrest, it might trigger larger turf wars among drug cartels battling 
for new markets.

A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry expressed displeasure and 
called the vote a "tragic reversal of the war on drugs."

"Obviously, this will create a lot more problems with drug 
traffickers along the border," spokeswoman Kathy Walt said, adding 
that Texas had lost its "partner" in the drug war.

"We expect the situation will only get worse," she said.

Gary Johnson, the controversial Republican governor of New Mexico 
from 1994 to 2002, welcomed the move and suggested laws should be 
relaxed further.

"I think it is certainly a step in the right direction," Johnson 
said, taking a break from a marathon bike ride from New Mexico to California.

"If an individual is smoking marijuana in the confines of their own 
home, doing no harm to anyone other than arguably themselves, that 
shouldn't be a crime," he said.

The U.S. government, often critical of Mexico's efforts to fight drug 
cartels, declined to officially comment.

"We haven't studied the law yet, but any effort to decriminalize or 
legalize illegal drugs, even for personal use, would not be helpful," 
said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the 
delicate nature of international relations

Jose Angel Cordoba Villalobos, head of Mexico's congressional Health 
Commission, cautioned that nobody should expect to walk down a 
sidewalk smoking a joint.

"There has been some confusion -- use anywhere in public is 
prohibited," he said, adding that anyone caught near a school or 
carrying more than personal-use quantities will be prosecuted.

In some ways, the new law merely reinforces the obvious.

"If you are in your house and nobody has accused you of being a drug 
trafficker, no one is going to bother you," said Cordoba, a member of 
Fox's conservative National Action Party.

Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar indicated the president was on the same page.

"This law provides more judicial tools for authorities to fight 
crime," Aguilar said.

A member of Fox's staff later pointed out that while the president 
could sign the entire law, he also has the authority to send it back 
to Congress with recommendations for change.

The full text of the bill was not available Friday, and some 
observers suggested that once all of the details are released some of 
its provisions may become more precise.

Angel Garcia, 41, a Mexico City guitarist and marijuana aficionado, 
said the bill addresses reality.

"A lot of people are using drugs in the streets right now -- nurses, 
bus drivers -- everybody does it, but hides it," he said.

Garcia said he's spent time in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where drug use 
is permitted and is a tourism draw, and thought people handled it 
with a maturity not seen in a lot of places.

"The more you do not tell people what to do, the more responsible 
they will be with their decisions," said Garcia, who like other 
Mexicans will have to wait and see what Fox does with the law.

Another aspect of the law requires that drug prosecutions be held 
under federal standards and therefore does away with new attempts to 
hold criminal trials in forums open to the public rather than 
requiring all testimony to be given privately in writing.

"The federal code is obsolete legislation, famous for producing 
lengthy written trials and exposing public officials to corruption," 
said Roberto Hernandez, a Mexico City professor who studies the 
criminal-justice system. "Some states, like Nuevo Leon and many 
others have better, transparent adversarial criminal procedures to 
try those cases.

"This reform is a step back," he continued. "It is forcing these 
states to expose their judges to attempts of corruption from the 
delinquents who might have the economic power to bribe public officials."

Along the Rio Grande, drug-fueled violence and corruption are so 
entrenched that officials are desperate for relief.

Francisco Chavira, a Nuevo Laredo city councilman, supported the bill 
and said its provisions would allow authorities to focus on kingpins 
and spare the addicts.

"It is good that Congress passed the measure, because being a 
consumer and being a drug trafficker are not the same thing," said 
Chavira, who believes addicts should not be punished, but treated.

"The war on drugs is one thing; addiction is another," he said. 
"Different strategies are needed for each."

In nearby Laredo, Webb Country Sheriff Rick Flores said Mexico was 
hunting for solutions.

"Right off the bat, I can tell you that Mexico is trying an 
experiment to see how to deal with minor offenders," he said. "The 
Mexican bill is not as radical as it sounds, but letting drug users 
off the hook could actually cause a rise in other crimes."
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