The roller-coaster ride of narcotics enforcement in Mexico continues with the recent decriminalization of personal use drug possession.  At a time when the current administration in Mexico is in an all-out war with the drug cartels, could anyone have guessed this one?

The action by the government of Mexico creates one of the world’s most permissive drug markets just over our border.  The law goes way beyond what is permitted in many liberal countries by making it legal to possess small amounts of a wide array of drugs.  Some of the drugs decriminalized for personal use include: 5 grams of marijuana (the equivalent of four joints), 50 mg of heroin, half a gram of cocaine (the equivalent of three lines of coke), and 40 mg of methamphetamines.

What is even more puzzling about this move is that it comes at a time when drug abuse in Mexico is at epidemic proportions.  A 2008 government survey estimates that the number of drug addicts in Mexico doubled in the past six years to 307,000.

Mexican prosecutors stated that the decriminalization will help in the war on drugs by allowing federal prosecutors to focus on the large drug cartels.  An official in the Attorney General’s office in Mexico stated, “This frees us from the flood of small time crimes that have saturated our federal government and allows the authorities to go after big criminals.”

This despite the fact that most Mexican Police never bothered to arrest someone caught with personal use drugs.  Of the 21,456 arrests for drug possession in Mexico City from 2005 to 2007, only 1,084 were prosecuted.

Mexico’s attempt to decriminalize narcotics possession in 2005 was strongly opposed by the Bush administration, killing the initiative.  This time around, the Obama administration kept silent on the issue.  U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said in July he would adopt a “wait and see” attitude on the issue.

Could we be next…?