By Nicole Stinson
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Recent media reports have had a tendency to attribute Mexico’s decriminalization of marijuana to American influences. The reality says, Ram Barra, Drug Policy Program Director at Espolea, is that Mexico is going it alone.
“While in the past Mexican legislation had been much more influenced by Washington’s opinion, today this is less the case,” he tells BTR.
Despite marijuana representing almost 89 percent of drug seizure along the American-Mexican border, according to research by The Center for Investigative Reporting, Mexico’s ventures at the state and local level to further decriminalize are internal and not entirely new. In fact, the process began in 2009 when criminal charges were dropped for personal consumption amounts of marijuana and other drugs.
Under Mexican federal law, quantities of less than 5g of marijuana, 50 mg of Heroin, 500 mg of cocaine, or 40 mg of methamphetamines would draw no criminal penalties. Drug dealing still remained a criminal offense with punishment of up to eight years imprisonment.
In February, two bills were introduced, one to Mexico City and the other to the Congress and Senate, which are pursuing to increase the amount for marijuana up to 30 grams.
Barra attributes any outward influence on these drug policies to that of Portugal and the Netherlands, more than to the US.
“I would say Mexico City’s bill is part inspired by the Dutch cafe system and part Portugal’s decriminalization efforts,” he says. “The federal bill would go further, at least when it comes to accepting therapeutic use of cannabis, which is something over 20 jurisdictions around the world already do.”
In 2001, Portugal removed criminal penalties for all drugs and reclassified them as administrative violations. Under national law, those caught in possession undergo treatment rather than incarceration.
Subsequent studies over the last 10 years, have found this method to be highly affective in reducing drug abuse and lowering prison populations.
“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, at a press conference in 2011, the 10th anniversary of the law. He also added that the number drug addicts considered problematic had halved because funding was now going into improving treatment programs rather than prison costs.
Lisa Sanchez, Latin American programme manager for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation and Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia, tells BTR that she also believes both bills represent a move towards decriminalizing all drugs in Mexico with the focus being less about their legalization.
“It is about better prioritizing local law enforcement and a matter of finding alternatives to incarceration,” she says. “These bills are aimed at creating momentum for significant reform.”
American news media sources such as The Huffington Post are also reporting that these reforms will have significant impact on Mexican drug cartels.
Research from the independent RAND Corporation has found that marijuana only represents a minority source of income for most cartels with their study finding it only attributed to 15 to 26 percent of all drug export revenue. Instead, they found that cocaine was the main source of money for these groups.
It is also important to remember that these reforms at both national and local levels are not decriminalizing trafficable quantities. Sanchez also believes that the impact of decriminalizing marijuana on families in the drug trading industry will be minimal.
“I don’t necessarily think that it is going to have any impact because we are not touching anything on the production side,” she explains. “But it will have a positive affect on other people, mainly the ones that are being incarnated and criminalized for minor drug offenses.”
Barra agrees, adding that the “legal regulation can only deal with the so-called ‘intended consequences’ generated by prohibition and, of course, drug use and abuse.”
It is expected that both the federal and Mexico City bills will be voted on in the next ordinary periods beginning in September.
“There is a good chance that the bill submitted to Mexico City will pass with some amendments while questions still remain at the Federal level,” says Sanchez.
If passed, this further decriminalization of marijuana and other drugs will signify Mexico’s independent effort to move away from the US-imposed “War on Drugs” and instead the proactive move towards meeting the needs of their people through the success of the Portuguese model.