Amid U.S. Pressure, Fox Refuses to Sign Drug Bill
Measure Would Have Legalized Small Amounts of Drugs for Personal Use in Mexico
MEXICO CITY (May 4) - Mexican President Vicente Fox backed off a bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, sending it back to Congress for changes rather than signing it into law.
The announcement late Wednesday came after U.S. officials urged Mexico to tighten the proposed law "to prevent drug tourism." On Tuesday, Fox's spokesman had said he would sign the bill.
Fox will ask "Congress to make the needed corrections to make it absolutely clear in our country, the possession of drugs and their consumption are, and will continue to be, a criminal offense," according to a statement from the president's office released Wednesday.
The measure, which was passed Friday by Mexico's Congress, drew a storm of criticism because it eliminates criminal penalties possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine and PCP, as well as marijuana and cocaine.
Congress has adjourned for the summer, and when it comes back it will have an entirely new lower house and one-third new Senate members following the July 2 elections, which will also make Fox a lame duck.
However, Sen. Jorge Zermeno of Fox's conservative National Action Party - a supporter of the bill - said he thought Congress would be open to changing the legislation to delete a clause that extends to all drug "consumers" the exemption from prosecution that was originally meant to cover only recognized drug addicts.
"The word 'consumer' can be eliminated so that the only exemption clause would be for drug addicts," Zermeno told The Associated Press. "There's still time to get this through."
The bill contained many points that experts said were positive. It empowered state and local police - not just federal officers - to go after drug dealers, stiffened some penalties and closed loopholes that dealers had long used to escape prosecution.
But the broad decriminalization clause was what soured many - both in Mexico and abroad - to the proposal.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryan said that "U.S. officials expressed their opposition to legalization or decriminalization of narcotics in any country" and "urged Mexican representatives to review the legislation urgently, to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico, and to prevent drug tourism."
Some U.S. officials have expressed concern that the measure could increase drug use by border visitors and U.S. students who flock to Mexico on vacation.
Bryan said the U.S. government wants Mexico "to ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs."
Mexico's top police official, Eduardo Medina Mora, acknowledged on Tuesday that the U.S. anti-drug agency has expressed concern about the law. Some senators and community leaders in Mexico also objected to the bill. But even if it had passed, he noted that Mexican cities have the power to impose fines and overnight jail detentions for those caught with drugs in public.
Medina Mora said legislators had changed Fox's original proposal by inserting a controversial table laying out maximum amounts of drugs for "personal use," including cocaine, heroin, marijuana and ecstasy.
Current Mexican law allows judges latitude to drop charges if suspects can prove they are addicts and the quantity they were caught with is small enough to be considered "for personal use," or if they are first-time offenders.
The new bill would have made the decriminalization automatic, allowed "consumers" as well as addicts to have drugs, and delineated specific allowable quantities, which do not appear in the current law.
Under the law, consumers could have legally possessed 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 four "lines," or half the standard street-sale quantity.
The law also laid out allowable quantities for a large array of other drugs, including LSD, MDA, MDMA (ecstasy, about two pills' worth), and amphetamines.
amid U.S. pressure,fox refuses to sign drug bill
Published: May 4, 2006, 5:58 am