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Latin America: US Drug Czar Supports Mexico Drug Decriminalization

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has been vocal in its condemnation of various moves to decriminalize marijuana possession in the US, but it is now singing a different tune when it comes to a similar proposal in Mexico. Drug czar John Walters told the New York Times last Friday that he supported Mexican President Felipe Calderon's recent call to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all illicit drugs.

Under Calderon's proposal, people caught possessing drugs could avoid criminal sanctions if they agree to submit themselves for evaluation and treatment of their "drug problem." Calderon is touting the measure as a means of concentrating Mexican law enforcement efforts on the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations rather than wasting time and resources picking on drug users.

"I don't think that's legalization," said Walters, who supports Calderon's tough approach to the drug trade and lobbied vigorously for the multi-year, multi-billion dollar anti-drug aid package for Mexico approved by Congress earlier this year.

That prompted the Marijuana Policy Project to issue a press release headed "Hell Freezes Over." "I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but John Walters is right," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "We heartily second his support for eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana users in Mexico, and look forward to working with him to end such penalties in the US as well," Kampia said.

"It's fantastic that John Walters has recognized the massive destruction the drug war has inflicted on Mexico and is now calling for reforms there, but he's a rank hypocrite if he continues opposing similar reforms in the US," Kampia continued. "The Mexican proposal is far more sweeping than MPP's proposals to decriminalize marijuana or make marijuana medically available, both of which John Walters and his henchmen rail against."

Not everyone was so excited. Writing for Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog, Jacob Sullum agreed with Walters that Calderon's proposal is not legalization. "In fact, it's a stretch even to call Calderon's proposal 'decriminalization,'" he wrote. "It is surely an improvement if illegal drug users don't go to prison, even if the alternative is a treatment program that may be inappropriate, ineffective, or both. Yet under Calderon's plan the threat of jail still hangs over anyone who violates the government's pharmacological taboos and is not prepared to undergo re-education, which entails identifying himself as an addict, even if he isn't, and playing the role of the drug dealer's helpless victim. Walters correctly sees that such compelled affirmation of drug war dogma, which he likens to the treatment-or-jail option offered in American 'drug courts,' poses little threat to current policy."

Sullum also noted that Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, had supported a 2006 bill that would have lifted criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of drugs before he pulled it in the face of pressure from the Americans. At that time, a US embassy spokeswoman said the Mexican government should "ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs." As Sullum noted: "The Calderon proposal satisfies that criterion and differs little from current practice in many American jurisdictions, so it's not surprising Walters is on board."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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What They Missed

Sullum and Walters have missed the boat again! Mexico isn't addressing their "drug" problem. They're addressing their "CRIME" problem! Once the crime problem is under control, then, and only then, can they attempt to address their drug problem.

Legislators in Mexico are showing more common sense than their equals in the United States. A move such as this is a direct attack on the cartel's funding scheme. PRD legislators also want to include a "5 plant/home" idea. This isn't new to Mexico. When I talk to my mother-in-law, she tells me of day's past when she had a plant in the garden that she clipped to make tea when her kids were sick, poultices for skin problems and such.

It's good to see the Mexican Congress beginning to take a stand against crime and the cartels, in just such a fashion. It shows they care more for their people than American legislators do about theirs.

And, since Drug Czar Walters applauds the actions of Mexico in this endeavor, there should be no "strong arm tactics" by the American government to sabotage this push against crime. Mexico could very well lead the way out of the "Prohibiton nonsense" that has plagued the world for years. I congratulate PRD for their insight and actions.


Walters supports Mexico's "decriminalization" because he knows such half-measures will only end in failure. This particular brand of "reform" is particularly odious because, while it appears to be attempting to test the ideas of drug war reformers, it perpetuates the state's ownership of citizen's bodies, and still threatens people with prison if they refuse to submit to "re-education." It will have no effect on the violence, because the source of the violence is not drug users, but producers and traffickers fighting with each other and police. The only way, at this point, to reduce drug war violence is complete legalization and regulation of the drug market here in the United States. When this measure fails to reduce drug war violence, Walters and his henchmen will be trumpeting it as a dismal failure of "Legalization."

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