April 28, 2006

Mexico to decriminalize pot, cocaine and heroin

By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Possessing marijuana, cocaine and
even heroin will no longer be a crime in Mexico if the drugs
are carried in small amounts for personal use, under
legislation passed by Congress.

The measure given final passage by senators in a late night
session on Thursday allows police to focus on their battle
against major drug dealers, the government says, and President
Vicente Fox is expected to sign it into law.

"This law provides more judicial tools for authorities to
fight crime," presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said on
Friday. The measure was approved earlier by the lower house.

Under the legislation, police will not penalize people for
possessing up to 5 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 25
milligrams of heroin or 500 milligrams of cocaine.

People caught with larger quantities of drugs will be
treated as narcotics dealers and face increased jail terms
under the plan.

The legal changes will also decriminalize the possession of
limited quantities of other drugs, including LSD,
hallucinogenic mushrooms, amphetamines and peyote -- a
psychotropic cactus found in Mexico's northern deserts.

The legislation came as a surprise to Washington, which
counts on Mexico's support in its war against drug smuggling
gangs who move massive quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana
and methamphetamines through Mexico to U.S. consumers.

A delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives visited
Mexico last week and met with senior officials to discuss drug
control issues, but was told nothing of the planned legislative
changes, said Michelle Gress, a House subcommittee counsel who
was part of the visiting team.

"We were not informed," she told Reuters.


Hundreds of people, including many police officers, have
been killed in Mexico in the past year as drug cartels battle
for control of lucrative smuggling routes into the United

The violence has raged mostly in northern Mexico but in
recent months has spread south to cities like vacation resort

Under current law, it is up to local judges and police to
decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be
prosecuted for possessing small quantities of drugs, a source
at the Senate's health commission told Reuters.

"The object of this law is to not put consumers in jail,
but rather those who sell and poison," said Sen. Jorge Zermeno
of the ruling National Action Party.

Fifty-three senators voted for the bill with 26 votes

Hector Michel Camarena, an opposition senator from the
Institutional Revolutionary Party, warned that although well
intentioned, the law may go too far.

"There are serious questions we have to carefully analyze
so that through our spirit of fighting drug dealing, we don't
end up legalizing," he said. "We have to get rid of the concept
of the (drug) consumer."

(Additional reporting by Anahi Rama)