Friday, August 21, 2009

Mexico decriminalises personal drug possession

On Thursday Mexico finally enacted legislation to decriminalize personal possession of small quantities of all drugs (plans reported/discussed in more detail here back in May).

The legislation will operate in a somewhat similar fashion to the Portugese approach with arrested individuals having to agree to a drug treatment program to address admitted addiction or enter a prevention program designed for recreational users. penalties for those who refuse to attend one of these kinds of programs under the Mexican scheme have yet to be clarified.

The Mexican legislation defines threshold quantities of drugs under which which a designation of personal use can be made. These include 5 g of cannabis, or half 0.5g of cocaine, 50mg of heroin, LSD 0.015mg, and MDA/MDMA/methamphetamine all at 40mg (or 200mg for pills). Problems with such thresholds to make a distinction between possession for personal use and intent to supply offences have recently been discussed in a the context of UK legislation ( see appendix of this Transform briefing).

The response from the US has so far been somewhat muted, in stark contrast to the uproar that greeted similar proposals from the previous President Vincent Fox in 2006 , which were abandoned under extreme pressure from the Bush administration.

In many respects the legislation represents a formalisation of what was widespread tolerant policing practice - so may not have a huge impact on the ground.

Mexico joins a growing list of countries around the world that have either made similar moves or have them in the pipeline (see further reading below). Such moves - it is important to note - only address personal possession and use and do not involve decriminalisation or legalisation/regulation of drug production and supply which remains in the control of criminal enterprises. The UN treaties, whilst theoretically allowing moves towards decriminalising (or at least depenalising) personal use, specifically outlaw exploring options for legal regulation of production/supply. That said - there is an increasingly active debate in Latin America around such moves (see below).

For more details see this Associated Press report 20.08.09

Further reading


Anonymous said...

Good to see Mexico taking this approach, but the threshold amounts given (assuming they are correct) seem completely arbitrary and in some cases far too low. 40mg of MDMA is an extremely small amount, far less than even a single dose (which is more likely to be between 100-200mg). Same goes for 0.015mg (15 micrograms) of LSD.

Also, people often bulk-buy drugs for many reasons, including saving money, avoiding frequent visits to dealers, making use of a chance to obtain a rare drug that won't come around again soon etc.

Another thing is that it doesn't take into account potency e.g. 10 grams of weak cannabis could contain the same amount of THC as 5 grams or less of strong cannabis.

I agree with the idea of decriminalising personal use but it should be down to the court's discretion, not fixed amounts.

Steve Rolles said...

yes - i agree. These problems with thresholds are discussed in the appendix of a transform briefing on clause 2 of the drugs act - linked above in the main text.

Done said...

Blog post that also speaks to the reality of extremely small limits.

Portugal wisely allowed for what was determined as 10 days dose for the average "addict". Mexico's limits would only make sense for the most occasional recreational user. For example, 50 milligrams of heroin is just half a point. Most dependent street heroin users take more than that in a single injection.

A step in the right direction, but practically it doesn't do much to decriminalize the amount an "addict" would be purchasing for personal use. No where near a daily doses worth.

I agree with Anonymous saying the limits should not be fixed amounts. However, it shouldn't be the Court's discretion, because the whole idea is to keep the personal user out of court in the first place. I guess discretion would have to be police officer, with minimum limits under which no discretion is required, and then over that is where it would be up to the officer to determine whether the individual concerned had a personal amount, or a quantity for selling.

Martin Powell said...

Part of the motivation for this change in the law was to reduce the opportunity for crooked police to extort money by threatening to arrest users with small amounts of a drug. Giving the police discretion to decide the amount that warrants arrest would risk increasing opportunities for this corrupt practice.