According to today’s New York Times the Mexican government has “legalized” drug possession. Really? Perhaps someone at the NYT ought to inform Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
First of all, let’s explore the various connotations evoked by the word “legal.” After all, without proper context this term can mean many different things to many different people.
Oranges are legal. So are alcohol and tobacco. Aspirin is legal, as are thousands of prescription medications — including highly dangerous drugs like oxycodone. Yet while all of these products are ‘legal’ — in the sense that they may be lawfully produced and purchased by certain consumers — their distribution and possession are governed by vastly different regulatory controls.
Oranges, for instance, are widely available to all consumers, regardless of age. People can even grow their own, if they so desire. Aspirin is also readily available to the general public as an ‘over-the-counter’ medication, whereas prescription drugs may only be purchased at a state-governed pharmacy by those who possess written authorization from a licensed physician.
The sale and possession of alcohol and tobacco are also legal, yet both substances are heavily taxed and tightly controlled. State-imposed age restrictions place limits on who can legally purchase and use both products, and federal laws also specify how and where these products may be advertised. Federal, state, and county laws also impose strict controls regarding where these products can be legally purchased. Adults may legally produce certain types of alcohol, like beer and wine, privately in their home — if their production is intended for their own personal consumption and not for sale to the public. By contrast, federal and state laws tightly regulate the commercial production of any type of alcohol.
So then, when the NYT‘s headline asserts that drug possession in Mexico is “legal,” do they mean that marijuana is now legal like oranges are legal? Or like alcohol? Or like prescription drugs?
Unfortunately, the answer is ‘none of the above.’ In fact, no definition of ‘legal’ that I’m aware of resembles Mexico’s new drug possession scheme. The Associated Press explains:
The new law [Editor’s note: NORML initially reported on Mexico’s impending legal change this past May.] sets out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities no longer face criminal prosecution.
… The maximum amount of marijuana for “personal use” under the new law is 5 grams — the equivalent of about four joints. The limit is a half gram for cocaine, the equivalent of about 4 “lines.” For other drugs, the limits are 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams for LSD.
Anyone caught with drug amounts under the new personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment, and for those caught a third time treatment is mandatory.
… “This is not legalization, this is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty,” said Bernardo Espino del Castillo of the attorney general’s office.
So let’s review, shall we? Under Mexico’s new law:
* The private production of cannabis will remain a criminal offense;
* The commercial production of cannabis will remain criminal offense (and this production will continue to be monopolized by criminal enterprises/drug cartels);
* The commercial distribution of cannabis to consumers will remain a criminal offense (and this distribution will continue to be monopolized by criminal enterprises/drug cartels);
* The private possession of cannabis in quantities greater than “four joints” will remain a criminal offense;
* The private possession of cannabis in quantities under “four joints” will no longer be a criminal offense, but the marijuana will continue to be classified as contraband (and therefore seized by police), and the user will be strongly urged to seek drug treatment (or coerced to do so if it is one’s third ‘offense.’)
Does any of this sound like “legalization” (or even “regulation,” to quote the Mexican attorney general’s office) to you? I didn’t think so. A small step in the right direction, perhaps — but legalization? Not a chance — no matter how you define it!