MEXICO CITY - The U.S. outcry about a law allowing use of illegal narcotics has scuttled sweeping legislation that Mexican officials had touted as the cure for this country’s widespread retail sale and consumption of cocaine, heroin and other drugs. President Vicente Fox had intended to sign the law, which he had originally proposed, after receiving it from the Mexican Senate last Friday.
I was all excited a couple of days ago when it looked as if Mexican President Vicente Fox was going to agree to introduce a measure of common sense into the “war on drugs”. Fox announced that he was going to sign a bill that would have, among other things, decriminalized certain types of recreational drug use. Finally, it seemed, someone recognized that the “war on drugs” is a waste of time, money, and effort. Well, guess what? Once American government officials got wind of what was afoot, all hell broke loose. Now Fox has sent the bill back to the Mexican Congress with the request to “make the necessary correction so that it’s absolutely clear that in our country the possession of drugs and their consumption are and will continue being crimes.”
So, what happened here? Did Fox have a legitimate change of heart regarding legalizing recreational drug use in Mexico? Well, I suppose this is possible, but I think it’s far more likely and believable scenario is that Fox caved in to pressure from the American government. So much for being an independent leader of a sovereign country, eh?
I’m upset by Fox’ caving to American pressure. It’s not that I want to move to Mexico and become a stoner again, but it seemed that finally a government was about to admit to the futility of trying to eliminate, or at the very least regulate, personal recreational drug use. I’m not about to advocate drug usage, but it does seem that this should be a matter of individual choice. After all, if governments do not regulate or proscribe the personal and recreational use of alcohol and tobacco, isn’t this an example of blatant hypocrisy? Isn’t the only difference between illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine and legal ones like alcohol and tobacco is that one group has been demonized by generations of propaganda and the other is considered socially acceptable? Never mind the fact that the alcohol and tobacco industries are multi-billion dollar concerns with armies of highly paid lobbyists. Not too many marijuana and cocaine lobbyists in Washington, are there?
Most of the proposed legislation is aimed at enabling law enforcement to better contend with an explosion of small-scale narcotics trafficking and drug use across the country. Police and prosecutors blame the retail trade for much of the underworld killings racking Mexico, including those in the border city of Nuevo Laredo and the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco.
“It’s very worrying,” said Eduardo Medina-Mora, who as Fox’s secretary of public security heads Mexico’s largest federal police force. “We have seen ourselves as a transit country and now we have to see ourselves as consumers.”
Among other things, the law would have empowered Mexico’s 400,000 local and state police to pursue and arrest street dealers, something that is now the responsibility only of the 21,000-strong federal police.
But the protests started about the law’s provisions for legalizing small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs for personal consumption. Such personal use, especially for addicts, has gone unpunished in Mexico for decades.
Once rare, drug abuse now flourishes here, with marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin all readily available and widely used. Officials have seen street dealers freed by prosecutors and judges who declared the seized drugs of the accused were for personal use.
So now Mexico is facing the same choice we here in the US should be. Do you work towards providing treatment options for addicts? Or do you simply throw them in prison and throw away the key because that’s the most politically expedient approach?
There is no evidence that the “war on drugs” has been anything close to successful. In fact, all available anecdotal evidence clearly indicates that, while politicians can thump their chests and trumpet their “accomplishments”, drug use continues unabated in this country. Billions have been spent, thousands imprisoned…and for what? So politicians could campaign on their “tough on crime and drugs” credentials? Yep, it seems that building more prisons and warehousing drug addicts is a good way to build political capital.
Here’s the problem with American knee-jerk reaction to the bill Fox had promised to sign. After hearing “legalizing drug use”, no one bothered to actually read the law and check the language of it. In reality, it’s not at all about creating a nation of zoned-out crackheads and dope fiends. What it was really about was creating some much-needed definitions and eliminating ambiguities that exist in the current law.
“The problem is that they never said how much was the limit,” Medina-Mora told foreign reporters Tuesday “There is nothing new in this law. It just sets the specific quantities.”
But wording that permits narcotics possession by “consumers,” rather than “addicts,” prompted concerns by some in the United States and Mexico that the law could spur even more drug use. Visions of a sanctioned drug haven south of the border set more than few U.S. heads thumping.
Mexican officials insisted those fears were unfounded.
“The reform doesn’t legalize drugs in Mexico. Mexico is not, has not been, nor will be a paradise for consumers,” Medina-Mora said.
The controversial wording, and the scale of legal amounts of various narcotics, had apparently been added to the law in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress. But no one in the Senate or the Fox administration apparently objected to the provisions.
Mexican media and analysts barely acknowledged the law until the uproar from the United States led to the law being shelved. And the U.S. government seemed largely unaware of, or unconcerned by, the law’s provisions until this week.
But in meetings in Washington and Mexico City on Tuesday, U.S. officials made clear that the law as written was worrisome. After insisting Tuesday that the law would be signed as is, Fox administration officials said Wednesday it was being sent back to the drawing board.
So what have we learned from this episode? Well, how about that, although Mexico considers itself a proud, sovereign nation, in reality it does little without American approval and consent. Yes, Mexico may consider itself an independent country, but the sad fact is that President Fox’ caving to American pressure demonstrates that Mexico is really just a very large suburb of San Antonio.
Vicente Fox had a chance to make a difference, to put Mexico on a more sensible, less wasteful path in combatting illegal drugs. Sadly, he blew it. So…how DO you say “American lapdog” in Spanish?