Mexico Decriminalizes Recreational Drug Use

Mexico is about to decriminalize recreational use of drugs.

Mexicans would be allowed to possess small amounts of cocaine, heroin, even ecstasy for their personal use under a bill approved by lawmakers that some worry could prove to be a lure to young Americans. The bill now only needs President
Vicente Fox’s signature to become law and that does not appear to be an obstacle. His office said that decriminalizing drugs will free up police to focus on major dealers. “This law gives police and prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes that do so much damage to our youth and children,” said Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar.


The measure appeared to surprise U.S. officials. State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said the department was trying to get “more information” about it. One U.S. diplomat, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said “we’re still studying the legislation, but any effort to decriminalize illegal drugs would not be helpful.”

Some worried the law would increase drug addiction in Mexico and cause problems with the United States. Millions of American youths visit Mexico’s beach resorts and border towns each year. “A lot of Americans already come here to buy medications they can’t get up there … Just imagine, with heroin,” said Ulisis Bon, a drug treatment expert in Tijuana, where heroin use is rampant.


The law lays out allowable quantities for a large array of other drugs, including LSD, MDA, MDMA (ecstasy, about two pills’ worth), and amphetamines. However the bill stiffens penalties for trafficking and possession of drugs — even small quantities — by government employees or near schools, and maintains criminal penalties for drug sales.

Sales of all those drugs would remain illegal under the proposed law, unlike in the Netherlands, where the sale of marijuana for medical use is legal and it can be bought with a prescription in pharmacies. And while Dutch authorities look the other way regarding the open sale of cannabis in designated coffee shops — something Mexican police seem unlikely to do — the Dutch have zero tolerance for heroin and cocaine.

Sen. Miguel Angel Navarro of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party argued against the bill. “This authorizes the consumption of opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, and a variety of drugs that can only be bought illicitly.”

This strikes me as a smart compromise solution. While it won’t satisfy libertarians who think drugs should be a purely private concern or conservatives who think the state should enforce moral standards, this allows resources to be focused in a more rational manner.

As to the issue of Americans heading to Mexico to violate our laws, so what? It’s not as if these drugs are unavailable here; Spring breakers who want to try marijuana certainly don’t need to cross international borders. Surely, all countries aren’t required to have the same laws we do in case people from here want to visit?

FILED UNDER: Latin America, Law and the Courts, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lunacy says:

    Maybe more of them will stay in Mexico now!

  2. McGehee says:

    …some worry could prove to be a lure to young Americans.

    Making the illegal border-crossings a two-way affair. Cool.

  3. M. Murcek says:

    As the Fark headline rejoinder reads – “What could possibly go wrong?”