Drug Law

Southern Baptists-Mexico's New Drug Law "Tragic Surrender"

| by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON -- A new law in Mexico decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and other narcotics -- including cocaine and heroin -– will inflict "a serious setback" to the battle against drugs in the United States, a Southern Baptist policy expert has predicted.

"We now have an entire country on our southern border that is a haven for drug abuse," Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted in an Aug. 29 blog.

"Our southwestern states will suffer first from this tragic surrender as more drug-addicted people come across the border. Then the rest of the country will feel it as they move inland," Duke wrote.

"Inspections at the border will become more difficult as well, as more people attempt to cross into the country with their 'legal' drug amounts. You can be sure that U.S. relations with Mexico are going to be more strained as a result of this decision. …

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"You can also expect Mexico's decision to lead to increased calls for decriminalization of drugs in the U.S.," Duke predicted, citing an Aug. 27 decision by a marijuana policy panel in Denver to urge the county court's presiding judge to adopt a $1 fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. "Such actions will be more common as our cities feel the added weight of Mexico's drug problem spilling over the border," Duke wrote.

Under Mexico's new drug decriminalization law, which went into effect Aug. 20, possession of 5 grams of marijuana is legal, as is half a gram of cocaine, 40 milligrams of meth (methamphetamine) and 50 milligrams of heroin, the Associated Press reported. Cocaine and LSD also would be legal in small amounts.

Selling such narcotics, possessing larger amounts of such drugs or using them in public remain illegal, the AP noted.

The new law, Mexico Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora told a news conference, will free up law enforcement officials to focus on major drug traffickers, the AP reported.

Duke, however, pointed to "a superb editorial" in Investor's Business Daily critical of Mexico's drug decriminalization. Duke noted that the IBD editorial makes "five irrefutable arguments":

"1. Consumption will increase.

"2. Addiction will increase.

"3. Treatment costs for addicts will increase.

"4. Drug traffickers will profit.

"5. The law-abiding population will be demoralized."

The Investor's Business Daily editorial predicted that "new customers mean new cash for [Mexico's] already powerful cartels. To these organized crime groups, it means money to buy guns or to bribe officials. All of this lowers their cost of doing business, and raises it for the state to fight them. [The cartels will] grow more powerful -- not less."

The IBD editorial singled out Venezuela and Ecuador as the "worst" of nations "with little will to fight cartels," stemming in large measure from leaders "with ties to drug traffickers like Colombia's FARC," which controls much of the nation's embattled cocaine trade. Argentina and Bolivia, IBD added, "still see the drug war as a gringo war and are indifferent to their own responsibilities even as crime and addiction grow." The IBD editorial also said: "Think tanks financed by distant billionaire George Soros have worked to make the idea of decriminalization trendy among the smart set."

However, the editorial noted that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is turning the tide against Colombia's traffickers and has "dealt hard blows to Marxist narcoterrorists -- all from a position that looked hopeless. Unlike less successful leaders, he's moving harder against legalization because he knows he can win."

Mexico President Felipe Calderon, in embracing drug decriminalization, has waved a "white flag [that] throws away the sacrifices courageous Mexicans have already made, in blood and treasure, to crush these lawless organizations," IBD wrote. "Mexicans can't be blamed for wondering what they're fighting for if others can use drugs in front of their faces as they fight. Morale will plummet."

More than 10,000 Mexicans have been killed in the country's fight against drug cartels in recent years, including 1,000 troops, even while the nation's drug addiction rate has soared 30 percent over the last five years, according to IBD.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' deputy director, Paul Armentano, called the new Mexico law "a small step in the right direction" but complained that private and commercial production of marijuana and possession of larger amounts of marijuana remain criminal offenses. Armentano also complained that "marijuana will continue to be classified as contraband (and therefore seized by police), and the user will be strongly urged to seek drug treatment (or coerced to do so if it is one's third 'offense.')"

Duke, of the Southern Baptist ethics agency, frequently has countered NORML's push for marijuana legalization.

In a Baptist Press column in April, Duke noted that the push for legalizing marijuana "must be tempered by personal and social responsibility. Decriminalization of marijuana will encourage destructive behavior in users and affect the entire nation. When users no longer fear arrest, they will have marijuana more often and use it more often. Inebriation is only part of the problem. Marijuana users have higher risks of numerous medical problems, including cancer, psychosis, strokes, respiratory damage and heart attacks. They increase these risks with increased use. Additionally, increased use will lead to more personal and family problems. Work productivity will decrease as will employability. Such outcomes will put additional pressure on families, communities, businesses, health services and law enforcement."

Addressing the push for marijuana legalization for medical purposes, Duke wrote that "marijuana's pain-relieving ingredient has been available by prescription for years. The use of marijuana as a means to self-medicate one's mental health is also not justifiable. People dealing with depression need the regular care of a trained professional. If they require drugs, there are plenty of proven mood-altering ones available that do not introduce as many potential and likely problems as marijuana. Smoking marijuana medicinally threatens to make bad situations worse for many users. Marijuana introduces multiple toxic chemicals into the systems of people whose bodies are already weakened from their ailments. Not only might these toxic chemicals interfere with the healing process, but users risk developing additional [physical and mental health] problems."