29 April 2009

Empty seats, shutdown don't trip up drug bill


The News

The Senate met behind closed doors on Tuesday to approve a bill that would permit the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use but would not force rehabilitation for offending drug users, a key element of the proposal originally presented to the Senate by President Felipe Calderón.

Proponents said the bill would help crack down on small-time drug dealers but avoid treating drug users as criminals. "Fighting organized crime at its lowest level . where drugs are sold retail ... is one thing," said Democratic Revolution Party Senate leader Carlos Navarrete. "Young people, our young people or people of any age in this country, that regrettably have fallen into drug addiction, are another thing."

The "Ley Narcomenudeo," as the bill is known, is similar to a past failed attempt to decriminalize drug possession and its Senate approval comes amid a bloody crackdown on drug cartels. Its passage also comes amid a nationwide debate over the merits of drug legalization.

The new bill would allow possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine and 500 milligrams of cocaine. It would also make police forces at all levels responsible for combating drug dealing and impose sanctions of five to 15 years in prison for those found in possession of drugs with the intention of selling.

The original proposal sent to the Senate by Calderón called for mandatory participation in rehabilitation programs for those found to be in possession of small amounts of drugs. But the PRD on Tuesday claimed credit for successfully lobbying against that proposal. Under the new bill, rehabilitation would be voluntary, except for those caught in possession of drugs at least three times. The bill now heads to the Chamber of Deputies for a vote.

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