On Friday August 21st, the Mexican government decriminalized “personal and immediate use” of illicit drugs including heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines, LSD and cocaine. For each of these drugs, the government set legal limits for personal possession. One can now possess the equivalent of four joints of marijuana, 4 lines’ worth of cocaine, .015 milligrams of LSD, 50 milligrams of heroin, or 40 milligrams of methamphetamines. However, the government remains cautious in its spin on the decision. Bernardo Espino del Castillo of the Mexican attorney general’s office said, “This is not legalization. This is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty.”
Mexico became the second Latin American country after Portugal to decriminalize possession of these drugs. Reactions to the decision have been varied, especially as drug use remains a volatile issue in Mexico. One recent government survey put the number of Mexico’s addicts at 460,000, which was 50 percent larger than the addict population in 2002. Meanwhile, drug use can lead to other public health issues: 67 percent of intravenous drug users in Tijuana, for example, have tested positive for tuberculosis.
Some hope that the decision will lead to a greater focus on drug treatment rather than prosecution, and will help the government focus on the cartels rather than the users. As Alberto Islas, a security consultant in Mexico City said to the Wall Street Journal, “It helps the government focus on the bad guys and lets state and local governments get involved in drug abuse as a public health issue.”
Julie Myers Wood, former head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement under President G.W. Bush, said she also had doubts about Mexico’s decision. “I’m sympathetic with the Mexicans that they need to find a more effective way to deal with the cartels,” she said. “But just giving up, in terms of small amounts of drugs like cocaine and heroin, does not seem to me to be the most sensible approach.”
The NY Times interviewed a Tijuana drug counselor who said, “With everything that’s happening, we need to distance ourselves from the drugs. Imagine if I told people in here that it was legal for them to have a little. No way.”