Drug violence has taken a toll on Mexico, and drug-related killing more than doubled this year compared to 2007.
In October, President Felipe Calderón issued a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cocaine and other drugs in an effort to more efficiently target large-scale perpetrators.
Kathleen Blake Bohne writes at OpenDemocracy about the legalization debate in Mexico.
Drug decriminalization in Mexico
[...]As this situation becomes more desperate, citizens and policymakers are left wondering where else to turn. [...] On October 2, [President Felipe Calderón] proposed an additional tactic, presenting a drug legalization scheme to the Mexican Congress, where various members of all three main political parties support its passage. Legalization is the term being used to describe this proposal, however, it would be more accurate to describe it as decriminalization – it would offer the alternative of treatment rather than prosecution for possession of small amounts of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. The stated goal is to help unclog the judicial system - already sluggish from corruption and poor infrastructure – overloaded with cases against addicts, whom many believe should be treated as patients rather than criminals. This should also free up law enforcement to concentrate its efforts against dealers; the same proposal includes tougher penalties on those who sell drugs to minors, for example.
The Mexican Congress passed a similar legalization proposal presented by then-President Vicente Fox in 2006, but Fox himself vetoed it, raising suspicions that U.S. pressure had been applied. But the 2008 proposal has already been given a quiet nod of approval by the U.S. drug czar, John Walters, who also assured his country’s unwavering support for Calderón’s military crackdown. This about-face on legalization - which Walters has been vehemently opposed to in the U.S – is likely because it is seen as a local effort that can be encouraged, as long as the overall government strategy remains adamantly hawkish on the drug war. It also appears that the momentum towards at least partial decriminalization in the region may be overwhelming; as noted in a recent report from the Center on Hemispheric Affairs, Latin America is shifting towards a “more independent, region-centric approach to the issue of the economics of narcotics.”
A rising tide of similar legislation is being considered in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia, and in an October OAS (Organization of American States) meeting, the President of Honduras stated that “the trade of drugs, arms and people…are scourges on the international economy, and we are unable to provide effective responses” because of ongoing drug prohibition. The speaker of Mexico City’s legislative assembly, PRD Senator Victor Hugo Cirigo has even suggested the legalization of the sale of small amounts of marijuana in the capital city, citing the fact that marijuana is a “soft” drug, and that it is obvious that a new strategy is needed – he advised it is time to “hit criminals where it hurts: their finances.” Even the great Fuentes has lent his voice in support: “The only way to curb the violence of the drug cartels in Mexico is by legalizing drugs…If six or seven countries agreed with each other to legalize drug-taking, we would end it with the drug traffickers.” Fuentes’s statement highlights the significance of an international consensus on legalization; without a doubt, the United States, as the most profitable drug market in the hemisphere, would need to participate in order to reduce the cartels’ spoils of prohibition.
Legalization/decriminalization is certainly not the solution favored by everyone, including a very vocal and indignant Catholic Church, which criticized the legislators responsible for their “lack of moral values and ethics…thinking this makes them more modern.” Many fear a dramatic increase in the number of addicts, although they have been multiplying in Mexico for the past decade. Mexican drug use has spiked up 52% since 2000, with cocaine use alone increasing 100% in the past six years; women’s use has almost doubled in the same period. In a country where close to 50% of the population is under the age of 25 (the fastest growing demographic for drug addiction is the 12-17 year-old group), and rapid urbanization has created vast, destitute slums, it seems a sad truth that drug use will only increase, whether or not addicts are jailed.
In considering this issue, it should be remembered that even the few successes in the panorama of failures in the war on drugs have been mostly accidental. The end of the crack cocaine epidemic that gripped cities across the United States in the 1980s and early 90s was one of them. This triumph over a specific, highly potent drug and its users and dealers was credited with single-handedly reducing crime on city streets. How was this enviable feat accomplished? The truth is, no one knows.
December 11, 2008