Mexico's illegal-reefer madness
Mexico passes bill on small-scale drugs possession
The war on drugs costs not only scarce public revenue but also wears on our human rights. As people grow comfortable treating this controversial issue rationally, may they likewise deal with property sensibly and adopt geonomics. We trim, blend, and append two 2009 articles from (1) Reuters, May 1, on the new law and (2) the Los Angeles Times, May 4, on next steps by Isaac Campos, professor of history at the University of Cincinnati and a visiting fellow at UC San Diego's Center for US-Mexican Studies.
by Reuters and by Isaac CamposMexico's Congress has passed a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs, from marijuana to methamphetamine, as President Felipe Calderon tries to focus on catching traffickers.
The bill, proposed by Calderon after an attempt by the previous government at a similar bill came under fire in the United States, would make it legal to carry up to 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 500 milligrams (0.018 ounces) of cocaine and tiny quantities heroin and methamphetamines.
The lower house of deputies passed the bill late on Thursday. It already has been approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Calderon in the days ahead.
Mexico's Congress passed a similar proposal in 2006 but the bill was vetoed by Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, after Washington said it would increase drug abuse.
The United States recently pledged stronger backing for Calderon's army-led war on drug cartels, whose turf wars have killed some 2,000 people so far this year in Mexico, as the drug violence is starting to seep over the border.
The new bill also allows Mexican states to convict small-time drug dealers, no longer making it a federal crime to peddle narcotics, a move that should speed up those cases.
US President Barack Obama praised Calderon's drug war efforts in a visit to Mexico last month and promised more agents and southbound border controls to curb the flow of guns and cash to the cartels.
JJS: Doesn’t violence breed violence? Can the pen be mightier than the sword? Instead of investing so much in imposing one’s narrow notion of the good, why not invest in spreading prosperity by formalizing economic justice? In a geonomic society, people would find life far too interesting to waste it in a stupor. Rather, we’d be advancing the arts, enjoying our ties to others, and drawing closer to understanding why we’re all here anyway.
Mexico's illegal-reefer madness
Although use of marijuana was not widespread, the plant was increasingly seen as a national menace and, in 1920, was banned. Gradually, the idea that marijuana was dangerous seeped into the United States, fostering American notions of "reefer madness" and eventually helping to inspire marijuana prohibition here as well (in 1937).
Since then, Mexico has continued to be tough on marijuana, even in the face of softening US attitudes toward the drug. Behind closed doors, Mexican Atty. Gen. Flores went ballistic, warning that if the United States refused to back Mexico's war on marijuana, Mexico might go soft on heroin, the major US priority of that era.
Mexico is now being forced to reevaluate these policies. Ironically, decades of being "tough" on drugs has produced a new link between marijuana and violence, but of a different kind. Indeed, the nation's "drug-related" violence today might more accurately be termed "drug-policy-related" violence.
The mafias behind the current tsunami of killings -- more than 6,000 last year -- are a product of the extraordinary black-market profits that drug prohibition generates. And because 60% of the profits earned by Mexican traffickers come from marijuana sales, legalization in both Mexico and the US would deliver a potentially debilitating blow to these powerful gangs.
Unfortunately, the Mexican public remains overwhelmingly opposed to marijuana legalization, with only 14% in favor, according to a February poll by Parametria, a public opinion research firm based in Mexico City. According to CBS News, by contrast, nearly 40% of Americans say they would favor legalization if the drug could be taxed and proceeds used to fund state budgets.
Half-measures, such as the formal decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, though a significant departure from the past, nevertheless promise to do very little to alleviate Mexico's current crisis of violence.
Although decriminalization would free up law enforcement to concentrate on trafficking, this would merely exacerbate the fundamental paradox at the heart of drug policy -- that by raising prices, law enforcement increases the economic incentive to traffic in drugs.
Thus, unless decriminalization is accompanied by a successful program of "education" that persuades people to abstain from using a drug that is relatively innocuous in comparison with, say, alcohol or tobacco, it won't do much to stem the violence. Education efforts should instead focus on undermining old prejudices that prevent meaningful reform in Mexico and the United States.
If we hope to use legislative reform to reduce Mexico's drug-policy-related violence, Mexico and the United States need to go all the way on marijuana legalization.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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