May 3, 2006

Mexico’s Fox backs down on drug law

By Frank Jack Daniel

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - In a surprise reversal, Mexican
President Vicente Fox will not sign a widely criticized reform
to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of
marijuana, cocaine and heroin, his office said on Wednesday.

The president's office said the law, which also toughened
sentences for dealing and holding larger amounts of the
intoxicants, would be sent back to Congress for revision.

"In our country the possession of drugs and their
consumption are, and will continue to be, crimes," the office
said in a statement.

Fox's decision was unexpected, given that the legislation
was initially designed by his office and introduced by his
party. This week, his spokesman praised the law and insisted
the president would quickly sign it, despite rumblings from a
shocked Washington.

Mexico argued that the measure set out clearer rules to
deal with drug crime, toughened sentences and closed
loop-holes. Under present law courts decide on a case-by-case
basis whether to act against people who hold drugs.

But the bill allowed for the possession of up to 5 grams
(0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of opium, 25
milligrams (0.0009 ounces) of heroin and 500 milligrams (0.018
ounces) of cocaine.

It also decriminalized the possession of limited quantities
of other drugs, including LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms,
amphetamines and peyote -- a psychotropic cactus found in the
Mexican deserts.

Critics, including politicians on both sides of the border,
said relaxing the rules so much would attract drug users to
Mexico from around the world and complicate its drug war.

Congress passed the legislation last week, dismaying
Washington, which counts on its southern neighbor's support in
a war against gangs that move massive quantities of cocaine,
heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines through Mexico to U.S.

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

The violence has raged mostly in northern Mexico, but in
recent months has spread south to Pacific coast resorts like

Beleaguered police in the crime-racked Mexican border
region warned that the legalization law would make its already
chaotic cities rowdier and more unruly. And authorities tourist
towns feared the reforms would attract a flood of hard-partying
U.S. thrill seekers.