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Spokesman: Mexico's president intends to sign drug decriminalization bill

San Diego Union-Tribune, May 2, 2006

MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Vicente Fox will sign into law a measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and even heroin, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Spokesman Ruben Aguilar defended the law, approved Friday by Mexico's Senate, despite criticism by some in the United States that it could increase problems with casual drug use by visitors or in border areas.

“The president is going to sign this law,” said Aguilar, who called the legislation “a better tool ... that allows better action and better coordination in the fight against drug dealing.”

“The government believes that this law represents progress, because it established the minimum quantities that a citizen can carry for personal use,” Aguilar said.

Currently, Mexican law allows judges the latitude of dropping charges against people caught with drugs if they can prove they are drug addicts and if an expert certifies they were caught with “the quantity necessary for personal use.”

The new bill makes the decriminalization automatic, allows “consumers” as well as addicts to have drugs, and delineates specific allowable quantities, which do not appear in the current law.

While police could still detain people for public consumption or possession of drugs, it appears that those caught would only be recommended to a treatment program – of which Mexico has few – or inclusion in a registry of “addicts.”

On Friday, San Diego, California, Mayor Jerry Sanders said he was “appalled” by the bill. The city of 1.3 million people sits a short drive from the Mexican border town of Tijuana.

“I certainly think we are going to see more drugs available in the United States,” Sanders said. “We need to register every protest the American government can muster.”

Under the law, consumers could legally possess up to 25 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of marijuana (about one-fifth of an ounce, or about four joints), or 0.5 grams of cocaine – the equivalent of about 4 “lines,” or half the standard street-sale quantity.

The law lays out allowable quantities for a large array of other drugs, including LSD, MDA, MDMA (ecstasy, about two pills' worth), and amphetamines.

However the bill stiffens penalties for trafficking and possession of drugs – even small quantities – by government employees or near schools, and maintains criminal penalties for drug sales.

It also gives local police more power to go after small-scale drug dealing.