The new law defines 5 grams of marijuana as a “personal use” amount. People caught in possession of less than that amount will face no penalty until their third offense, at which point the law requires them to enter addiction treatment. The change is part of the Mexican government’s efforts to fight a very hot war against drug cartels along its border with the U.S. By decriminalizing marijuana, Mexico seeks to free up law enforcement resources that have been wasted arresting non-violent marijuana users.
A similar law, proposed during former president Vicente Fox’s administration, was defeated following significant opposition from President George W. Bush. We have not seen the same pressure from the Obama administration this time around. In fact, current Mexican president Felipe Calderón has used this new law to send a message north about the need for a similar debate to take place on our side of the border. Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, for example, called for such a debate to be taken seriously by the U.S. in April, and the Mexican Senate scheduled discussion of the new law to coincide with President Obama’s first trip to Mexico.
Taking these events in context — especially considering the chorus of high-profile former Latin American leaders calling for the U.S. to change its heavy-handed drug policies — a clear message emerges: our neighbors are paying a heavy price for our marijuana laws, which account for 70% of the cartels’ profits.
In a sense, we’ve been exporting the worst consequences of prohibition to our southern neighbor by forcing marijuana to remain a business for thugs and criminals. Just like alcohol prohibition, marijuana prohibition causes more harm than the drug itself. The violence in Mexico has forced its government to face that reality; our politicians should pay close attention.
H.R. 2943, legislation in Congress that seeks to remove federal penalties for marijuana possession, is currently in committee. Please visit mpp.org/federal-action to ask your member of Congress for his or her support.