HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mexican President Proposes Decriminalizing Some Drugs
Pubdate: Fri, 3 Oct 2008
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A10
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Authors: Elisabeth Malkin and Marc Lacey
Bookmark: (Mexico)


MEXICO CITY -- President Felipe Calderon, who has made fighting drug 
traffickers the centerpiece of his administration, proposed 
legislation on Thursday that would decriminalize the possession of 
small quantities of cocaine and other drugs for addicts who agreed to 
undergo treatment.

Mr. Calderon said that the proposal was intended to attack the 
growing problem of drug addiction in Mexico. Still, it will probably 
be controversial both at home and abroad. A similar measure two years 
ago provoked strong opposition from the United States and was 
eventually dropped.

A recent government survey found that the number of drug addicts in 
Mexico had almost doubled in the past six years to 307,000, while the 
number of those who had tried drugs rose to 4.5 million from 3.5 million.

Drugs used to flow through Mexico to the United States, and they 
still do, but an increasing amount of those narcotics now stays in 
Mexico to feed the habits of domestic consumers.

Under Mr. Calderon's proposal, Mexican authorities would not 
prosecute people found to be carrying small amounts of drugs if they 
declared they were addicts and submitted to a treatment program.

Those who are not addicts could avoid prosecution by entering a 
prevention program. Fines could be imposed for those who declined to 
enter such programs.

The new legislation caps the quantities that would not be subject to 
prosecution at 50 milligrams of heroin, 2 grams of marijuana, 500 
milligrams of cocaine and 40 milligrams of methamphetamine.

The Mexican attorney general's office has said that it is so 
overwhelmed with prosecuting organized crime that it cannot handle 
the large number of small-time drug cases.

The measure is reminiscent of a proposal that passed the Mexican 
Congress two years ago but never took effect. It decriminalized 
possession of small amounts of drugs for people who could convince a 
judge that they were addicts.

That law, which did not require treatment for those found with drugs, 
provoked an uproar among United States officials, some of whom raised 
the image of Americans going to Mexico to enjoy legal drugs.

Under intense lobbying from the United States, Vicente Fox, the 
president at the time, asked Congress to amend the law and the 
measure was dropped.

Responding to Mr. Calderon's plan, American officials said Thursday 
that United States policy opposed the legalization of even small 
amounts of drugs. "It rewards the drug traffickers and doesn't make 
children's lives safer," said an American official, who asked not to 
be identified.

United States officials have heaped praise on Mr. Calderon for his 
crackdown on Mexico's drug cartels. Since taking office in December 
2006, he has sent some 30,000 troops into eight states and cities in 
an attempt to quell drug violence. But the violence has only 
increased. Almost 3,000 people have been killed in drug violence this year.

In a recent interview, an American counternarcotics official called 
Mr. Calderon a partner with the United States in the fight against 
illegal drugs and said he had shown no signs of backing down in his fight.

To buttress Mr. Calderon's efforts, the United States Congress has 
approved $400 million in antidrug aid for Mexico, part of a larger 
three-year package of aid to help Mexico and countries in Central 
America and the Caribbean battle drug traffickers.

Mexico's drug cartels are fighting for control of routes to the 
United States, which remains the world's primary market for illegal 
drugs. Increasingly, they are also fighting over control of the 
growing Mexican market for drug consumption, analysts here say. 
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