Outside the Senate building in Mexico City, a man shreds marijuana at a rally to hand out information and collect signatures for marijuana legalization, Jan. 22.REUTERS/Tomas Bravo
North America’s largest city on Thursday is looking to join the trend of drug reforms sweeping through the region, with Mexico City lawmakers introducing a measure that would decriminalize — not legalize — the possession of marijuana for personal use. It would also remove incarceration as the first response for the possession of other illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines.
In addition to the Mexico City measure, lawmakers from the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) introduced a bill in the federal House of Representatives that would allow prescriptions for medical marijuana at the national level. The measure would also permit states to regulate the drug’s production, distribution and sale.
The proposals represent a coordinated effort to deviate from punitive drug policies in Mexico, which has suffered unprecedented levels of drug-related violence during the United States–led war on drugs. Roughly 70,000 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence since 2007, when then-President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against drug syndicates.
“These bills are exciting because they further the hemispheric trend of changing marijuana laws,” said Hannah Hetzer, policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to global drug policy. “Amidst extreme levels of violence and crime, it is encouraging to see Mexico’s capital city attempt to refocus its efforts away from marijuana possession and low-level drug offenses and to invest in reducing violent crime instead.”
Under the Mexico City bill, residents caught with less than 5 grams of marijuana would not be charged with any administrative offense or fine. Possession of 5 grams to 5 kilos would require that offenders face a “dissuasion committee,” which would offer information on health treatment, but offenders would avoid jail time. Criminal sanctions would be applied to anyone found with more than 5 kilos of the drug.
In 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis, but people caught with that amount can still be detained by police. The same law also decriminalized up to 500 milligrams of cocaine and small amounts of heroin and methamphetamines.
Renato Sales, Mexico’s deputy attorney general, recently gave the measure a boost when he encouraged the country to debate the decriminalization measure seriously, without prejudices, after Colorado and Washington state began legal sales of marijuana for recreational use this year.
“The truth is that Mexico has paid a very high price for combating drug traffickers and prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana on its territory, when several cities in the United States have already legalized it,” Sales told local media.