April 29, 2006

Mexico to decriminalize some drugs

By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Possessing marijuana, cocaine and
even heroin will no longer be a crime in Mexico if they are in
small amounts for personal use under new reforms passed by
Congress that quickly drew U.S. criticism.

The measure given final passage 53-26 by senators in a late
night session on Thursday is aimed at letting police focus on
their battle against major drug dealers, 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

He said the reforms, which were proposed by the government
and approved earlier this week by the lower house of Congress,
made laws against major traffickers "more severe."

The legislation came as a shock 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.

"I would say any law that decriminalizes dangerous drugs is
not very helpful," said Judith Bryan, spokeswoman for the U.S.
Embassy in Mexico City. "Drugs are dangerous. We don't think it
is the appropriate way to go."

She said U.S. officials were still studying the reforms,
under which 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.

Fox has been seen as a loyal ally of the United States in
the war on drugs, but the reforms could create new tensions.

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


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.

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)