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Debate far from over for Mexico's drug bill

Lawmakers vowed Monday to pass a bill that drops charges for small amounts of cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs.

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Welcome to Mexico, a paradise of beaches, Mayan ruins ... and methamphetamines?

Much to the relief of many in Washington, Mexican President Vicente Fox decided last week not to sign into law a bill that would drop criminal charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs.

But Mexican lawmakers pledged Monday to keep pushing for the decriminalization bill, saying they could override Mr. Fox's veto. The bill has proved controversial, sparking debate in both the US and Mexico over how best to battle drug trafficking and use.

Fox helped design the bill, and when Mexico's Congress initially passed it at the end of April, presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar called it "an advance in combating narcotics trafficking." The reason: it would free up jail space and re-focus funding and manpower currently used to crack down on small-time users on big-time smugglers and dealers who, in the past few years, have turned Mexico into a more dangerous hub in the international drug trade.

But that was before Washington began raising objections. Officials from the State Department and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) "expressed concern," says Judith Bryan, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Mexico City, that such a law would both increase local drug consumption and encourage "drug tourism."

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders called the idea "appallingly stupid," and warned that it would turn border cities like Tijuana into Mexican versions of Amsterdam, where drug "tourism" rose after marijuana was decriminalized.

Mexico's Secretary of Public Security Eduardo Medina Mora argues the bill has been sensationalized by the media. Selling drugs or using them in public would remain a crime punishable by jail, and police would still be able to take anyone found using drugs into custody for questioning, he told reporters last week.

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