Mexican Drug Legalization

just say no  

So you’re planning a trip to Mexico, and thinking that maybe you’ll score a couple of joints to toke on the beach. After all, it’s legal, right?




Well, although small amounts of “recreational” drugs are legal in Mexico, if a Mexican police official sees you consuming drugs in public, he or she is obligated to take you before a Mexican judge.

That’s just one of the aspects of a potentially confusing law, enacted in August of 2009, which misses some key logical points in the legalization of drugs.

For starters, while possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use (see a list of drugs and amounts below) is allowed, it is still illegal to sell or otherwise distribute drugs. That’s why you’ll get arrested if seen using or possessing drugs, so the judge can determine whether you had them for personal use, or were planning to sell them.

That also means that there aren’t any controls over the purity or quality of drugs, so depending on their (illegal) source and how they were cut or prepared, they could be dangerous or even deadly. And in purchasing them, you are directly adding fuel to the violent drug war that has devastated Mexico.

The other reason why users are hauled before the magistrate is so that they can be referred to a drug treatment program. The first two referrals are suggestions, but on the third count, that referral becomes mandatory.

And in addition to legalizing small amounts of drugs for personal use, the law increased sentences for those convicted of selling drugs to a required jail term of between four and eight years in prison, even for selling small amounts. It also decentralized the prosecution of drug-related offenses – where before this was in the purview of federal prosecutors, state and local prosecutors can now issue sentencing for drug-related offenses.

Legal Drugs and Limits

Marijuana: 5 grams (about three to five marijuana cigarettes, or one Bob Marley-sized joint)
Cocaine: one-half of a gram (500 milligrams), or about five “lines”
Heroin: 50 milligrams
Methamphetamine: 40 milligrams
LSD: 0.015 milligrams

So if a federal, local or state prosecutor decides that you were in possession of those drugs to sell them, you’re going to see some hard jail time.

The law was supposedly intended to reduce the opportunities for corruption, but the above scenario seems like it would be a perfect opportunity for corrupt officials to seek bribes.

Then again, with the increased focus on the economic importance of tourism and the negative publicity that a tourist’s conviction and incarceration for allegedly selling small amounts of drugs would cause, it’s very possible that the chance for wrongly convicting a tourist for distribution of drugs is remote. But you never know.

At any rate, the law gives local jurisdictions (states and municipal governments) until August of 2012 to implement new drug-use laws that are written within the framework of the federal law, so in many respects the true impact of the legalization is still to be determined.

So is using “legal” drugs in Mexico worth the potential risk? I think not, but that’s up for you to decide.