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September 5, 2009 -- (US)

Mexico Misses the Point

By Ryan O'Neal

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


Congratulations, American college students! You no longer have to fly to Amsterdam to have an opportunity to go on a legal Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-style drug binge. Now you can just go to Cabo!

That's right, Youth of America. The decriminalization of everything from marijuana to methamphetmines in Mexico has occurred.

Of course, this scares the hell out of nearly everyone who doesn't identify by the term 'progressive' or 'liberal.' And why wouldn't it? We can see Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with no legal repercussions, people!

But as much as I pull for the legalization and regulation of drugs, I don't think Mexican legislators really thought the results of this move through. It's not the crazy spring breakers that scare me. It's the power that will be shifted to the people who supply the drugs that does.

As Scoop44's own Tom Risen reported, cartels are handing out free samples of formerly illicit substances in order to create demand for more taboo drugs, like heroin and hallucinogens. I think the overwhelming majority of educated humans can agree that an increase in the use of narcotic is not what the world needs.

There are many reasons why there is a quickly-growing lobby for the legalization of marijuana in the United States: increased industry transparency, increased tax revenues, and decreased prison costs. It also takes power out of the hands of vicious drug lords, which will in turn reduce drug-related violence. As The Economist so eloquently put it, legalization is the "least bad" option, clarifying, "'Least bad' does not mean good," as drug use clearly isn't something anyone should condone.

What legalization and decriminalization do, though, is open up the doors for drug use to be treated as a problem, not a crime, effectively working toward making a bad part of the world better. This is part of Mexico's hope for the future.

Unfortunately, Mexico's manner of decriminalization is probably going to make things worse, and what looks like a small victory for us championing reform could turn out to be a step backward. The new Mexican legislation is both too wide and not wide enough, all at once.

The different substances decriminalized run far too broad a spectrum for Mexican authorities to effectively control. With acid stamps now being handed out like cheese squares at a grocery store, it's hard to argue that the move is beneficial. One could make the case that ignoring the small-time users will allow for increased resources to be allocated toward tracking down the big-time dealers, but working from the ground up ­ making deals with the relatively innocent user in exchange for info on their dealer ­ is completely eliminated from the process. Not to mention, there will be more drug users on the streets giving their money to the most violent people in the country.

Increased funding for drug agents and police will be one of the better effects of this change, but unless we see government control of the illegal substances, there's a good chance Mexico's drug problem will remain at the status quo, if not worse, for the foreseeable future.

Decriminalization doesn't take power away from the drug sellers, traffickers and producers, and it only marginally gives power to Mexican authorities. The drug trade depends on the consumer more than ever, and users ­ directly or indirectly ­ support the cartels. The source of violence won't be reduced, and drug-related deaths will continue to escalate.

I don't know if full legalization wasn't implemented for political reasons or infrastructure reasons, and it doesn't really matter. The fact that government restrictions will not apply any more to the production and distribution of drugs than they did before doesn't strike me as a promising notion.

But let's hope I'm wrong. There is no sure-fire manner for curing drug addiction for an individual, let alone an entire country. Maybe Mexico just isn't a cold-turkey type of nation.

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