Mexican President Proposes Decriminalizing Small Amounts of Some Drugs, Including Marijuana and Cocaine despite U.S. Opposition

Press Release October 2, 2008
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646)335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann at (646)335-2240

President Felipe Calderon on Thursday proposed decriminalizing small amounts of some drugs, including cocaine and marijuana. The legislation would offer treatment instead of incarceration for people who are struggling with drug addiction. A recent survey found that the number of Mexicans addicted to drugs doubled in the past six years to more than 300,000.

President Calderon has made a crackdown on Mexico’s drug cartels a cornerstone of his administration since taking office. He has sent 30,000 troops around the country to try to stop the violence. But armed attacks and executions have only increased with more than 3,000 people dying from violence related to drug prohibition this year alone.

The United States is already criticizing the new proposal. One official who did not want to be identified said they oppose the policy because it “rewards the drug traffickers and doesn’t make children’s lives safer.” Mexico’s Congress passed a similar decriminalization bill in 2006, but the bill was eventually dropped because of U.S. opposition and pressure.

Statement from Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (see description below).

“President Calderon’s proposal to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs is consistent with the broader trend throughout Western Europe, Canada and other parts of Latin America to stop treating drug use and possession as a criminal problem. But it contrasts sharply with the United States, where arrests for marijuana possession hit a record high last year — roughly 800,000 annually — and now represent nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide.

“Mexico is trying to make the right choices on law enforcement priorities; it’s time for the United States to do the same,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

“The White House Drug Czar John P. Walters should think twice before criticizing a foreign government for its drug policy, much less holding the United States out as a model. Looking to the United States as a role model for drug control is like looking to apartheid South Africa for how to deal with race. This country leads the world in per-capita incarceration rates, with less than five percent of the world’s population but almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. About 500,000 people are in U.S. prisons and jails today simply for violating a drug law; that’s almost 10 times the total in 1980,” said Nadelmann.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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