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Feature: Mexico's Congress Hosts Forum on Marijuana Regulation, Decriminalization

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #581)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

President Obama flew into Mexico City Thursday to, among other things, restate his support for the existing drug war paradigm as he reiterated his backing for Mexican President Felipe Calderón's bloody war against Mexico's wealthy, powerful, and violent drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels. It's too bad he didn't schedule his trip for a few days earlier, because then he could have seen a new drug policy paradigm being born.

Earlier in the week, the Mexican Congress held a three-day debate on the merits of decriminalizing the personal use of marijuana. The debate, known as the Forums on the Regulation of Cannabis in Mexico, brought together government officials, elected representatives, academics and experts in a lively discussion of Mexican marijuana policy.

Although Mexico is a socially conservative country, and marijuana use is popularly -- if unfairly -- associated with lower-class criminality, the blood-stained fall-out from President Calderón's war against the cartels is creating social and political space for reform discussions that would have been impossible a decade ago. Since Calderón unleashed the Mexican army against the cartels at the beginning of 2007, the death toll has climbed to more than 10,000, and the spectacular, exemplary violence has shocked Mexican society.

While President Calderón has proposed legislation that would offer pot smokers treatment instead of jail, Calderón and his ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN) have stopped short of calling for legalization or decriminalization. The left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) supports decriminalization, while the smaller Social Democratic Party (PSD) has called for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs.

In 2006, Calderón's predecessor, Vicente Fox, moved to pass decriminalization legislation. But he pulled the bill after being pressured by the US.

While Obama has not weighed in on marijuana legalization or decriminalization in Mexico, the DEA has. Either course would mark "a failure" of US and Mexican drug policy, DEA chief of intelligence Anthony Placido told El Universal Wednesday. "The legalization of marijuana in Mexico would create more misery and more addicts," he said. Nor would it weaken the cartels, he argued; instead, they would simply shift their attention to other illegal activities.

''Global Marijuana Day'' demonstration in Mexico City, May 2008
PSD Deputy Elsa Conde last year introduced three bills that would legalize medical marijuana, legalize hemp, and decriminalize marijuana possession, but the debate in Congress this week does not pertain to any particular piece of legislation. Instead, it lays the groundwork for future policy changes. Lawmakers have said they wanted to hear various viewpoints before considering any changes in the law.

Even the ruling PAN appears open to some sort of reform. "It's clear that a totally prohibitive policy has not been a solution for all ills," said Interior Department official Blanca Heredia. "At the same time, it's illusory to imagine that complete legalization of marijuana would be a panacea."

When it came to marijuana, said Heredia, neither total legalization nor prohibition should be the policy, but something in between. "Every new solution is necessarily partial," she said. "Every decision runs risks and brings with it new problems. We have to try to balance things carefully, to rigorously analyze the impact that different proposals would have on the drug market and the organized crime industry."

Javier González Garza, leader of the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in the Chamber of Deputies, said that while he favored decriminalizing marijuana, the topic should be discussed separately from other types of drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and the synthetics.

"What we don't want is the criminalization of our youth for consuming or carrying marijuana," said González. "That is the central point. If we made consuming or carrying marijuana a serious crime, there aren't enough jails in Mexico to hold everybody."

While the politicians talked politics, others took the discussion to loftier realms. Philosopher Rodolfo Vázquez Cardoso questioned whether it is ethically justifiable to criminalize the possession of drugs for personal use. He noted that while the theme of most discussion was the harmful effects of drug use, the central theme should instead be that of freedom.

"There is no legitimate objective of the judicial system to promote good living or virtue because that enters into conflict with the capacity of each individual to choose freely and rationally how to live his life and choose the ideals of virtue in accord with his own preferences," said Vázquez. Drug prohibition, he added, is based on "repressive paternalism" and violates the principle of personal autonomy.

For Ana Paula Hernández of the Angélica Foundation, human rights and the rule of law were key concerns. She cited the "unmeasured militarization of the country as a consequence of the war against organized crime" and warned that those most affected by the drug war were the poor peasant communities that were "the weakest link" of the drug production chain.

"These ideas about controlling prohibited drugs are innovative," said political scientist and drug policy expert Luis Astorga. "When it comes to drugs, we don't have to follow the path of the United States, which hasn't worked. We need to develop ideas and policies distinct from those of the US. We have a very good opportunity to do something independent, as they have in Europe and Canada," he said.

But Armando Patrón Vargas of the National Council Against Addiction in the Health Department said decriminalization wasn't necessary because Mexico doesn't criminalize drug addiction. "I don't see any urgent need to modify the status [of marijuana] and decriminalize use," he told the forum. The Mexican government guarantees treatment of addicts, he said, even if the investment in treatment is inadequate.

Dr. Humberto Brocca, a student of herbal and traditional medicine and a member of the pro-reform Grupo Cáñamo (Cannabis Group) told the forum it was time to end the prejudice and social stigma against pot smokers and urged legislators to be fearless in moving toward regulation "because fear is not a good advisor."

Brocca told the Chronicle Wednesday that while he did not expect quick change in the drug laws, the forum was a start. "It means that society is demanding some truth about important issues," he said.

Even the half-measure of decriminalization would make a big difference, he said. "It would take cannabis out of the criminal circuit and it would lower prices and guarantee good quality," Brocca said. "It would also remove cannabis from its role of rebellious banner for youth, thus making it less attractive for them. It would also help law enforcement to not waste its time on petty issues and focus on important ones, like going after the traffickers. And it would liberate the many people who currently serve time for nothing."

Mexico's lawmakers have had their chance to discuss marijuana law reform. Now it is time to craft and pass the necessary legislation to put those reforms in place. But with mid-term elections coming up in a couple of months, little is likely to happen before then.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Blanco Heredia says "At the same time, it's illusory to imagine that complete legalization of marijuana would be a panacea." The question isn't whether it would be a panacea, the question is whether and in what ways it would be an improvement, and what the downside would be, if any.
But of course I'm wondering if Mr. Heredia realizes that alcohol is a drug. Most drug warriors seem in denial over what a dangerous drug alcohol is. So their arguments against cannabis appear ludicrous to people who've taken a look at the science and statistics of alcohol vs. cannabis.

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 3:30pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is pathetic!

It is time for the people to come together, tell our governments to step down!

Their needs to be change in the command of control over our nations.

Our nations leaders have trick us and lied through and through. The leaders are not deal with a situation, they are making sure it does not go away! THEY ARE BEHIND IT! THEY WANT IT!

HISTORY CLEARY SHOWS PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK! especially with a demand for a product.

NO Decriminalization! THIS DOES NOT CHANGE THE PARADIGM! They will still be demand because it does nothing for the supply, that WILL meet the demand! So the CHAOS continues!

RE-LEGALIZATION is the only choose! People have and always will do drugs and have been since they were discovered. This FEAR of a drug world is only propagated to continue the ENSLAVEMENT of the MANY! For EXTREME PROFIT for the FEW ( ON BOTH SIDES OF THE SO CALLED GOOD AND EVIL!)

I have a family of 5, I do not want children living in a world where they fear their own government!


Fri, 04/17/2009 - 3:34pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Consider the massive unemployment if they re-legalized... what do you do with all those unemployed violent drug war whores?

Remember, when the 1st drug war ended... upon the repeal of alcohol prohibition in 1933... those drug war whores just created another war... against the marijuana plant... by racists and extreme religious fanatics like harry anslinger... amerikas 1st drug/narcotics/propaganda czar!

Truth is treason in the kingdom of lies!

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 7:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Although Mexico is a socially conservative, CATHOLIC, country... is the important fact that we keep ignoring at print time... whether it's political correctness or political cowardice I'm not sure... but it sure doesn't help further the objective... the full reinstatement of inalienable rights? Know ALL thy enemies... for they are many!

Anonymous above has it right... Re-Legalization... and the return to lawful laws is the only solution that would end the continuation of special interest groups demanding special rights that don't exist.

Humanistically Yours,
A 'lower-class criminal'... smarter than the pope!

B.S. I propose legislation that would offer civil-rights violating politicians, and religious leaders, treatment instead of jail... NOT! Those dirty bastards shouldn't be allowed to buy their way out of their punishments!

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 6:23pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Look at that foolish war against drugs, it cost the US 18 billion a year each year and going higher. If refer is controlled as cigars or cigarettes, the government coffers would fill up, there would be less violence and the streets would be safer!! It goes to show you the fools that lead our country and for sure all the violent fools through out the planet!

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 7:21pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Its obviously that laws of the US havent worked
its time to move on and mexico have to choose hiw own laws
DEA get out of mexican politicy !

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 10:10pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

who started prohibitions and why especially with Oliver North getting away with being a cocaine and weapons smuggler while Freeway Ricky Ross gets thrown in prison. Double standards in law enforcement as an empire historically and eventually are proven to be terrorism and trade fraud causing the absolute power mongers who rely on such a cruel kingdom to be destroyed.

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 10:11pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Why don't the Mexican Cartels brew alcohol and grow tobacco? Because there's a legal, regulated and taxed market for booze and smokes. Two of the most deadly and addicting substances. If you outlaw a drug, outlaws will produce and sell it on the black market. Use and abuse of booze is celebrated and televised to impressionable children. Tobacco smoking is glamorized in classic and new movies. People have been using drugs for thousands of years for religious and social purposes. And they're not going to stop, even if you threaten the death penalty ie Malaysia and China. Proof? Even in China there are needle exchange programs and methadone clinics.

Sat, 04/18/2009 - 1:07am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading this guys book its very clear that the people who force the war against drugs on everyone are simply war criminals,terrorists,dictators,etc ,and should be sentenced to life in the prisons they have built or face the death penalty in the execution chambers they made and never ever be allowed to have power over any people,places,or things. Prohibitions are clearly started by politicians who are secretly doing business with the richest legal and illegal drug cartel and enforced by a fraudulent paramilitary group which pose as law enforcers. Plants and drugs are illegally kept illegal.

Sun, 04/19/2009 - 5:06pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

To collaborate on ending drug prohibition and reforming drug policy. Judge Jim Gray of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) is speaking this Thursday, 4/23 at 7pm in Redondo Beach about legalization, more info on Hope to see you there!

Mon, 04/20/2009 - 1:27am Permalink

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