New York Times: Mexico “Legalizes” Drug Possession — Well, Not Exactly

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 21, 2009

    According to today’s New York Times the Mexican government has “legalized” drug possession. Really? Perhaps someone at the NYT ought to inform Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

    First of all, let’s explore the various connotations evoked by the word “legal.” After all, without proper context this term can mean many different things to many different people.

    Oranges are legal. So are alcohol and tobacco. Aspirin is legal, as are thousands of prescription medications — including highly dangerous drugs like oxycodone. Yet while all of these products are ‘legal’ — in the sense that they may be lawfully produced and purchased by certain consumers — their distribution and possession are governed by vastly different regulatory controls.

    Oranges, for instance, are widely available to all consumers, regardless of age. People can even grow their own, if they so desire. Aspirin is also readily available to the general public as an ‘over-the-counter’ medication, whereas prescription drugs may only be purchased at a state-governed pharmacy by those who possess written authorization from a licensed physician.

    The sale and possession of alcohol and tobacco are also legal, yet both substances are heavily taxed and tightly controlled. State-imposed age restrictions place limits on who can legally purchase and use both products, and federal laws also specify how and where these products may be advertised. Federal, state, and county laws also impose strict controls regarding where these products can be legally purchased. Adults may legally produce certain types of alcohol, like beer and wine, privately in their home — if their production is intended for their own personal consumption and not for sale to the public. By contrast, federal and state laws tightly regulate the commercial production of any type of alcohol.

    So then, when the NYT‘s headline asserts that drug possession in Mexico is “legal,” do they mean that marijuana is now legal like oranges are legal? Or like alcohol? Or like prescription drugs?

    Unfortunately, the answer is ‘none of the above.’ In fact, no definition of ‘legal’ that I’m aware of resembles Mexico’s new drug possession scheme. The Associated Press explains:

    The new law [Editor’s note: NORML initially reported on Mexico’s impending legal change this past May.] sets out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities no longer face criminal prosecution.

    The maximum amount of marijuana for “personal use” under the new law is 5 grams — the equivalent of about four joints. The limit is a half gram for cocaine, the equivalent of about 4 “lines.” For other drugs, the limits are 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams for LSD.

    Anyone caught with drug amounts under the new personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment, and for those caught a third time treatment is mandatory.

    … “This is not legalization, this is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty,” said Bernardo Espino del Castillo of the attorney general’s office.

    So let’s review, shall we? Under Mexico’s new law:

    * The private production of cannabis will remain a criminal offense;

    * The commercial production of cannabis will remain criminal offense (and this production will continue to be monopolized by criminal enterprises/drug cartels);

    * The commercial distribution of cannabis to consumers will remain a criminal offense (and this distribution will continue to be monopolized by criminal enterprises/drug cartels);

    * The private possession of cannabis in quantities greater than “four joints” will remain a criminal offense;

    * The private possession of cannabis in quantities under “four joints” will no longer be a criminal offense, but the marijuana will continue to be classified as contraband (and therefore seized by police), and the user will be strongly urged to seek drug treatment (or coerced to do so if it is one’s third ‘offense.’)

    Does any of this sound like “legalization” (or even “regulation,” to quote the Mexican attorney general’s office) to you? I didn’t think so. A small step in the right direction, perhaps — but legalization? Not a chance — no matter how you define it!

    70 responses to “New York Times: Mexico “Legalizes” Drug Possession — Well, Not Exactly”

    1. Bobreaze says:

      Well its slightly better than american laws if all that happens is they take your drugs and name but you dont face a fine. No its not legalization but it will show that decriminalization and treatment are a smarter plan than the current status quo.

    2. FOX says:

      Face it, Mexico has enough courage to combat a problem where it starts. The source of drugs such as meth, cocaine, PCP, heroin, etc.

      The Associated Press is quoting it as “legalizing” and the Arizona’s finest are ticked-off. Well, these people truly are ignorant fu*ks. This law isn’t going to change a single thing in Mexico, but the idiots who print things in America think this will make the walls of Mexico implode… (I don’t know what you think, but these people haven’t been paying attention to where the walls are currently in Mexico… how about 6 feet under the ground with many of the young Mexicans caught up in the Cartels?)

    3. Anonymous says:

      All of this is nonsense.NYT article is misleading and only propagates false ideas.This is legalization without legalization.”Those in charge” should really sit down and weigh each of their words before making comments to the public or issuing statements. It is irresponsable from their parts.

    4. High East says:

      Still illegal. Just different penalties.

      I don’t think changing the penalty for use is going to solve their violence problems.

      I’m sure the citizens and tourists will appreciate not going to a mexican jail for posession, though.

    5. – Paul, thank you for defining the
      “well, not exactly…” part of
      Mexico’s drug “legalization”.
      (Hyperbolic headlining of the “L-word”
      in MSM has, (long ago),
      made me quite skeptical…).

      -It’s not really “legalizing”, per. se.
      It doesn’t really defund the criminal-element
      like regulated alcohol-sales did to 1920
      prohibition’s Al Capone…

      A more appropo NYT-headline
      might be…
      “Mexico de-felonizes / de-criminalizes
      miniscule personal-usage amounts of drugs…”

    6. Bradson says:

      Mexico’s new liberalization policy will help to the extent that it frees people from police harassment and cop’s demands for bribes to avoid that harassment, so it’s a very limited step in a new direction. Mandatory treatment is onerous and downright silly for most cannabis users. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I can’t see it having any effect on the real problem, criminal control of the products.

      Incidently, five grams for me would be good for 7-8 joints, not four. According to standard prohibitionist logic, that makes my five grams more dangerous.

    7. Annah says:

      The “decriminalization” concept is such a joke. Like a bad joke, actually. Do they think they’re appeasing folks who want cannabis legalized? Is that the point? Are they trying to get people to feel comfortable with wandering around with “four joints” in their pocket so they can get more leads on suppliers? Don’t they get it? Don’t they understand that this is doing no more good than full criminalization? What’s going to stop cops from inquiring, “Where’d you get that?”

      Granted, it looks like a “first step” toward legalization, but I believe it is not. I also think that Mexico would not do this without the US Government’s stamp of approval and that makes me think that both governments are trying to appease legalization proponents in an effort to quell the continued rise of people asking for true legalization.

      The only cure to the sickness that is prohibition and drug cartel violence is legalization, taxation and real regulation. Period.

    8. Donald laface says:

      Legalized was the wrong term to use..I’ve been watching[reading ] about all that’s to happen for quite awhile now…they’re ”allowing” to be carried a small amount of drugs..marijuana 5 grams,or about 4 joints,..and coke,meth and others…hoping addictive ones will seek treatment for their addiction…I think you went full tilt overboard w.your comment on the news…btw, keep your eyes on Mexico,things are really going to change…Donl member NJ chapter since 06.am,..member NORML for one long time…