Inside Mexico's Plan To Decriminalize Drugs

By Victoria Kim 05/14/19

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's wants the country to treat drug use as a health issue rather than a crime. 

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador Photo via YouTube

Mexico’s president has given his firm endorsement of decriminalizing drugs, Forbes reported.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently unveiled his National Development Plan for 2019-2024, which includes a plan for decriminalizing all drugs including heroin and cocaine.

The president unequivocally acknowledged the failure of the “war on drugs,” and the need for a wholly different approach. By decriminalizing drugs, it would be treated as a health issue rather than a crime.

“The only real possibility of reducing the levels of drug consumption is to lift the ban on those that are currently illegal, and redirect the resources currently destined to combat their transfer and apply them in programs—massive, but personalized—of reinsertion and detoxification,” Obrador said in his policy statement.

Arrests would be replaced by “enforced medical treatments,” Forbes reported.

When the drug war was escalated under former President Felipe Calderón, violence escalated as well. In 2006, Calderón deployed 6,500 soldiers to fight drug traffickers. This resulted in an estimated 150,000 deaths attributed to organized gang killings, according to a 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Neither drug trafficking nor drug use have declined over the past decade but instead have risen to record levels, according to a report by the International Drug Policy Consortium.

“Public safety strategies applied by previous administrations have been catastrophic: far from resolving or mitigating the catastrophe has sharpened it,” said Obrador.

The war on drugs approach is “unsustainable” for many reasons, said the president. It is bad for public safety and for public health. “Worse still, the prohibitionist model inevitably criminalizes consumers and reduces their odds of social reintegration and rehabilitation.”

It is “conceivable” that legislation will be drafted to make Obrador’s proposal a reality in the coming year, according to Marijuana Moment.

While Obrador’s plan may seem “radical,” Mexico would not be the first country to decriminalize drugs. Nor would it be the first time the country attempted to reform its drug policy in this manner.

In 2009, under Calderón, Mexico decriminalized small amounts of drugs including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD and methamphetamine.

However, the policy “achieved little in practice,” according to a 2014 report from the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law. Why? The maximum limits for personal use set by the law were too small to make a real difference—5 grams was the legal limit for marijuana, half a gram for cocaine, 50 milligrams for heroin, 40 mg for meth and 0.015 mg for LSD. The policy resulted in “little more than quasi-decriminalization,” Talking Drugs reported at the time.

Mexico, one gateway for illegal drugs destined for the U.S., has seen firsthand the brutal violence associated with the lucrative drug market that the U.S. offers. As a result, the country is finally acknowledging the need to break the status quo. 

The past several Mexican presidents—Enrique Peña Nieto, Vicente Fox and even Calderón—have acknowledged the failure of the war on drugs. 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr