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Posted by on May 4, 2006 in At TMV | 5 comments

Mexico’s President Backs Down On Controversial Drug Law

Mexico’s President Vincente Fox is doing a quick about-face on signing a controversial new Mexican drug law that would decriminalize small amounts of some drugs — and that could have led to a boost in tourism for Mexico for all the wrong reasons:

After intense pressure from the United States, President Vicente Fox has asked Congress to reconsider a law it passed last week that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs as part of a larger effort to crack down on street-level dealing.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Mr. Fox said the law should be changed “to make it absolutely clear that in our country the possession of drugs and their consumption are and continue to be crimes.”

Officials from the State Department and the White House’s drug control office met with the Mexican ambassador in Washington Monday and expressed grave reservations about the law, saying it would draw tourists to Mexico who want to take drugs and would lead to more consumption, said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Later in the day, Mexico’s chief of the Federal Police, Eduardo Medina Mora, tried to clarify the law’s intent, saying its main purpose was to enlist help from the state and local police forces. Until now, selling drugs has been solely a federal offense, and the agents charged with investigating traffickers are stretched thin, he said.

Mr. Medina Mora, the main architect of the first measure, which Mr. Fox sent to Congress in January, said it was true the law would make it a misdemeanor to possess small quantities of illegal drugs, but he added that people caught with those drugs would still have to go before a judge and would face a range of penalties. “Mexico is not, has not been and will not be a refuge for anyone who wants to consume drugs,” Mr. Medina Mora said.

The problem even with Mora’s comments: many of the young (and not so young) people that would head down to a Mexico in which key drugs are decriminalized don’t read the New York Times. The message that has been emitted via the media is that Mexico soon will be Party Capital Of The World.

You can almost imagine a tourism slogan with drug decriminalization: “Get a nose for Mexico.” Or: “Mexico: A shot in the arm for relaxation.”

If the law isn’t changed, MTV will have to do its shows from Mexico during Spring Break.

Times Online has a piece that explains a bit more of some of the concerns:

The Mexican Government says the legislation will allow the authorities to concentrate on fighting the violent drugs gangs that have turned several cities into war zones. But the Bush Administration fears it will encourage thousands of young Americans to head south as “drugs tourists�.

Cities such as Cancún, Tijuana and Acapulco are favourite destinations for US students seeking a good time in the sun.

A White House official said that American representatives met their Mexican counterparts this week to express opposition to the Bill.

“They urged Mexican leaders to review the legislation and to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico to prevent drug tourism,� he told The Times. Asked to elaborate, he added: “Look at Amsterdam. You’re British. You know what we mean.�

Jerry Sanders, Mayor of San Diego, which is close to the frontier, said he was appalled by the Bill. “I certainly think we are going to see more drugs available in the United States,� he said. “We need to register every protest the American Government can muster.�

Reuters also provides some Mexican domestic political context:

Critics, including politicians on both sides of the border, said relaxing the rules so much would attract drug users to Mexico from around the world and complicate its drug war.

Congress passed the legislation last week, dismaying Washington, which counts on its southern neighbor’s support in a war against gangs that move massive quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines through Mexico to U.S. consumers.

Hundreds of people, including many police officers, have been killed in Mexico in the past year as drug cartels have battled for control of lucrative smuggling routes.

The violence has raged mostly in northern Mexico, but in recent months has spread south to Pacific coast resorts like Acapulco.

Beleaguered police in the crime-racked Mexican border region warned that the legalization law would make its already chaotic cities rowdier and more unruly. And authorities tourist towns feared the reforms would attract a flood of hard-partying U.S. thrill seekers.

On the other hand, it’s not over until it’s over. Will Fox find that some legislators in Mexico’s Congress balk at his request for revisions ostensibly on the grounds that Mexico shouldn’t be shoved around by The Great Giant to the North? And then there’s the question of the drug cartels’ influence on lawmakers there. What role will that play in any proposed revision?

But for now, at least, it seems as if Mexico will not go to pot.

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