President Felipe Calderón finally signed a new law that decriminalizes the possession of small quantities drugs that include marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. The law - which Congress approved in April, despite objections from National Action Party (PAN) lawmakers in the lower house - also requires state and municipal police forces to crack down on small-time drug dealing, known in Mexico as narcomenudeo.
Calderón proposed the law last year as part of a series of measures for combating narcotics-trafficking gangs. Other measures proposed making it easier for the government to seize the assests of organized crime, overhauled the Attorney General's Office (PGR) and created a new Federal Police. The war on drugs has claimed more than 11,000 lives since Calderón took office in December 2006.
The president's original proposal called for mandatory rehabilitation stints for those caught with drugs. Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) senators balked at that proposal and made rehabilitation voluntary. PAN deputies nearly rioted when the bill arrived in the lower house, however. The deputies unsuccessfully demanded mandatory rehabilitation be included and also objected to the quantities of drugs that could be carried without incurring penalties. The amounts surpassed the original proposals called for by Calderón.
The law allows for the possession of five grams of marijuana, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine and 500 milligrams of cocaine without incurring criminal penalties.
Calderón waited months before signing the law - he also waited to sign a maximum salary law that forbids any public servant or politician from earning more than the president - fueling speculation that he might exercise the presidential veto.
One PAN lawmaker, who voted against the measure, told me back in May that Calderón would eventually sign the law since it contains provisions that force state and municipal police to begin cracking down on small-time drug dealing. Those tasks had been the exclusive jurisdictions of federal police forces. Small-time drug dealing, he added, also is becoming more common in Mexico as the cartels develop a domestic market for their product and pay their underlings in merchandise.
The law follows a previous effort in 2006 to decriminalize drug possession. Congress passed a bill that year, but President Vicented Fox vetoed it after caving to pressure from U.S. officials.