New York Times: Mexico "Legalizes" Drug Possession — Well, Not Exactly

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!

0 thoughts

  1. Well its slightly better than american laws if all that happens is they take your drugs and name but you dont face a fine. No its not legalization but it will show that decriminalization and treatment are a smarter plan than the current status quo.

  2. Face it, Mexico has enough courage to combat a problem where it starts. The source of drugs such as meth, cocaine, PCP, heroin, etc.
    The Associated Press is quoting it as “legalizing” and the Arizona’s finest are ticked-off. Well, these people truly are ignorant fu*ks. This law isn’t going to change a single thing in Mexico, but the idiots who print things in America think this will make the walls of Mexico implode… (I don’t know what you think, but these people haven’t been paying attention to where the walls are currently in Mexico… how about 6 feet under the ground with many of the young Mexicans caught up in the Cartels?)

  3. All of this is nonsense.NYT article is misleading and only propagates false ideas.This is legalization without legalization.”Those in charge” should really sit down and weigh each of their words before making comments to the public or issuing statements. It is irresponsable from their parts.

  4. Still illegal. Just different penalties.
    I don’t think changing the penalty for use is going to solve their violence problems.
    I’m sure the citizens and tourists will appreciate not going to a mexican jail for posession, though.

  5. – Paul, thank you for defining the
    “well, not exactly…” part of
    Mexico’s drug “legalization”.
    (Hyperbolic headlining of the “L-word”
    in MSM has, (long ago),
    made me quite skeptical…).
    -It’s not really “legalizing”, per. se.
    It doesn’t really defund the criminal-element
    like regulated alcohol-sales did to 1920
    prohibition’s Al Capone…
    A more appropo NYT-headline
    might be…
    “Mexico de-felonizes / de-criminalizes
    miniscule personal-usage amounts of drugs…”

  6. Mexico’s new liberalization policy will help to the extent that it frees people from police harassment and cop’s demands for bribes to avoid that harassment, so it’s a very limited step in a new direction. Mandatory treatment is onerous and downright silly for most cannabis users. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I can’t see it having any effect on the real problem, criminal control of the products.
    Incidently, five grams for me would be good for 7-8 joints, not four. According to standard prohibitionist logic, that makes my five grams more dangerous.

  7. The “decriminalization” concept is such a joke. Like a bad joke, actually. Do they think they’re appeasing folks who want cannabis legalized? Is that the point? Are they trying to get people to feel comfortable with wandering around with “four joints” in their pocket so they can get more leads on suppliers? Don’t they get it? Don’t they understand that this is doing no more good than full criminalization? What’s going to stop cops from inquiring, “Where’d you get that?”
    Granted, it looks like a “first step” toward legalization, but I believe it is not. I also think that Mexico would not do this without the US Government’s stamp of approval and that makes me think that both governments are trying to appease legalization proponents in an effort to quell the continued rise of people asking for true legalization.
    The only cure to the sickness that is prohibition and drug cartel violence is legalization, taxation and real regulation. Period.

  8. Legalized was the wrong term to use..I’ve been watching[reading ] about all that’s to happen for quite awhile now…they’re ”allowing” to be carried a small amount of drugs..marijuana 5 grams,or about 4 joints,..and coke,meth and others…hoping addictive ones will seek treatment for their addiction…I think you went full tilt overboard w.your comment on the news…btw, keep your eyes on Mexico,things are really going to change…Donl member NJ chapter since,..member NORML for one long time…

  9. A step in the right direction at least!!!! Keep your heads up everyone, they can only keep up the lie for so long. Hopefully things will continue moving in the right direction so cops can go back to serving the public, rather than declaring war on them.

  10. I agree. Decriminalization is a bit of a double-edged sword. In one way, it is better than criminalizing drug users, because at least they won’t go to jail.
    But as far as supply goes, decriminilazation is actually BETTER for the cartels because it makes it more difficult for police to do their work… since criminals are still the suppliers in the drug transactions.
    What Mexico really needs is legalization, in other words, a regulatory scheme where stores or pharmacies can legally regulate and sell drugs. If there are legal outlets for people to get drugs, then the cartels will no longer be able to operate. People who are addicted to drugs will be more likely to seek treatment if drugs are legal, since they won’t be forced to turn themselves over to authorities to get help.

  11. Well i was excited till i read all that. Now im bummin. Is it good news or just meager table scraps? Sigh… as i said before i live in a town of about 1500 and there was the biggest raid weve had in a while. They got 20 people locked up all together. All they had was weed. There was alot but the people were nice people. Now our little small town cops are strollin around talkin about in local stores. Why should they ever want to legalize somthin that allows for such easy arrests?

  12. AWESOME WE R PROLY NEXT cuz i dont see y everyone around us would do this n not the U.S i heard rumor in the mid fall for the U.S i could be wrong

  13. Yes, a long way from “legal” but a HUGE step in the right direction.
    Be patient, real change takes time. Baby steps.
    As a native born US Citizen and full time legal resident of Mexico this new law lifts a huge vial of fear for many of us here.

  14. Norml,
    I just heard at 9pm EST Larry King live is going to have Gen Colin Powell and someone else talk about prostate cancer. How about getting people there posting questions about cannabinoids preventing and curing prostate cancer, other cancers and tumors.

  15. Thanks for writting this clarification. It will go a long way to keep rumors of cannabis being leagl in Mexico. A step in theright direct yes, legaization, definitly not.
    Hopefully our leaders here will see Mexico is taking steps we should have already taken nation wide. Maybe not. I’m very interested in our leaders response to this as I’m sure all of you are.

  16. it’s a small step in the right direction, for Mexico at least, but hey, it’s at least a baby step forward rather than leaps and bounds in the wrong direction.

  17. I think you pointed out the most important part of this when you talk about the production and sale of cannabis is still in the hands of drug cartels. Until prohibition is lifted this deadly policy will keep the drug cartels in business. This means thousands of Mexicans will die and thousands of Americans will go to jail. Our leaders need to better understand that the only way to prevent organized crime is to legalize, tax and regulate the business they are in.

  18. They decriminalized small amounts of drugs, simple as that. Let’s keep in mind that more than a dozen U.S. states have had much more lenient marijuana penalties since the 1970s than Mexico does today.
    It is my belief that this is neither a victory for or a strike against creating a more liberal drug policy. And it wasn’t meant to be. This is about reducing corruption. Before this new law, 15% of those caught with small amounts of marijuana were prosecuted. Such a low number should throw up some obvious red flags because it suggests that only those who could not buy their way out of criminal penalties were prosecuted.
    In my opinion this is a fantastic step in the right direction in Mexico’s need to reduce corruption but is unlikely to affect our country’s drug policy.

  19. I live in Perth, Australia and cannabis is decriminalised here. We pay more per ounce than the rest of the country (mostly still a criminal offense)and we still have all the problems associated with organised crime. The government here WILL NOT accept the fact that cannabis is the only way organised crime can create wealth literally from nothing, by growing cannabis, which in turn allows the manufacture of Meth and other man made compounds and also the importation of heroin and cocaine and other naturally derived substances not grown here.
    I have no idea what will change the politicians minds, because sound science, reason and logic certainly haven’t had an impact and now we have a religious nut in charge who will never change his mind (Kevin Rudd, Prime minister).

  20. Definitely a step in the right direction, though the NYT got it wrong describing it as legalization in any sense, personal use decriminalization is a tremendous improvement, and shouldn’t be underestimated. While it doesn’t solve the underground production and distribution aspect neither does medical marijuana in this country.

  21. Illegal is illegal, they are just changing the way in which it’s illegal. If it was legal they wouldn’t confiscate your property.

  22. they’re letting you have lsd. big ups for someone opening the mind to what LSD really is. Dont think its going to change a damn thing with the cartels until the supply is out of their hands. Taxiaton regulation like many of you have stated on hear. Viva La Mexico.
    and whoever mentioned USA stamp of approval. So true, they tried something like this three or four years ago and it didnt take off due to pressure from the regime.
    We’ll see

  23. Why is Mexico doing this? How is the drug situation different in Mexico than it is in the US? It is different. It could be they “legalized” it because nobody was enforcing the laws anyway. And what about the influence of the US on the way Mexico conducts is drug policy? They get a lot of money from the US for that purpose. And how can it be legalized if some law enforcement officer is keeping track of how many times the law has observed you using the drug, even if small amounts are “legal”. How else do they know if you have a third offense? There is something very weird about the whole thing.

  24. I was sitting in a $2 – $5 no limit poker game at the Borgata today and I brought this up. One player said this will only increase tourism to Mexico and we are so puritanical that this is why this issue is not yet on TV, and that because we are so puritanical, it will take at least another 30 years………
    Somebody needs to make an example of our corrupt, capitalistic, puritanical gubment, made up of mostly dumbass rednecks who live in DC and happen to have eeked out a college degree………..
    BTW, I was once a groundskeeper at a big university and the majority of litter I collected were cheat sheets…………………

  25. Now 3 foreign countries are light years ahead of America on drug policy. Shame on AMERICA FOR BEING SO RETARDED.

  26. the other myth perpetuating part of this that bothers me is that hard drugs have been decriminalized along with the herb. I’m sick of seeing cannabis lumped in with drugs.
    In James C. Gordon’s book, “A Manifesto for a New Medicine” he discusses the advantages of herbal remedies over pharmaceuticals, one aspect of this he cites being that when only some of the chemicals of an herb are extracted, many of the unidentified substances that can mitigate side effects or that are an integral part of the herb’s effectiveness are removed, thereby decreasing its effectiveness and/or increasing its harmfulness.
    Nowhere has this been more true than with cocaine. For centuries, native people in South America chewed on cocoa leaves while they worked. This gave them a pleasant means of increasing their energy levels. But when cocaine was extracted it became destructive and addictive to the user. And now they’re doing the same with cannabis, trying ot extract this or that preferred chemical. The pharmaceuticals and other powers that be hate to admit that cannabis hasw some medicinal value but let them find a way to make money off of it and it all changes, doesn’t it?

  27. NYT screwed up big time, apparently they don’t know what “legalize” means.
    These people get paid more than me and they don’t know what legalize means?
    Man, when is our herb gonna be legalized for good?

  28. The sad part to me is. If we would quit paying other counties billions of dollars and allow them to make their own drug regulations. Things would be much better.
    Like when we paid the leaders of Nepal 500 million to make cannabis illegal. Putting this small country in turmoil. I GUARANTEE IF WE QUIT PAYING MEXICO BILLIONS EVERY YEAR CANNABIS WOULD BE TOTALLY LEGAL THERE. AND I WOULD MOVE….

  29. The decriminalization in Mexico does nothing to address the problem,it only releases the law enforcement from tying up resources arresting and jailing the many small quantity contacts they have which leaves them free to try and find a trafficker or cartel operation. It is an
    intelligent way to quit loading their jails up with users
    and freeing up resources too prosecute the big fish.

  30. Whoever said up top that it would make tourism way safer is kinda right. Except i been to Mexico and was caught with drugs and all i did was slip the cops a 20. Its common knowledge Mexico never has been serious about drugs. Mexican people joke about the easy bribery to be had. Wish all we had to do is slip our cops i dont kno say a 25 and theyd cut us loose.

  31. The BBC says,
    “The Mexican government has enacted a law decriminalising the possession of small amounts of drugs, including cocaine and heroin.
    Mexican prosecutors say the move does not amount to legalisation.
    They say it is designed to prevent corrupt police from seeking bribes from small-time drug users, and to encourage addicts to seek treatment.
    If the police were taking bribes for these small amounts, aren’t they still going to be taking bribes for larger amounts of possession? If it works for small amounts, why not the whole mess?

  32. The Mexican govt is doing this to say that they tried it and then 6 months later, America is going to say “see, decriminalization doesn’t work and that’s why we won’t legalize it.” Decriminalization doesn’t work b/c it doesn’t attack the problem head on being the cartels and drugs in the hands of teens. It does absolutely nothing for the two largest problems surrounding MJ.
    How are Canada and Mexico going to have totally different rules for opposite sides of the same war as us? meanwhile we are locking up 800,000 people a year and giving the Mexican govt (and probably Canada too) $$ and Blackhawk helicopters to combat the problem that we condemn. I think its very strange that Obama just left the Mexican summit two weeks ago and then this legislation gets signed after it has been on Calderon’s desk all summer. The same legislation was swatted down by the Bush administration b/c Bush threatened the Mexican government with an interruption in trade and money.
    I really think there is something that the govt and media is not telling us (that’s nothing new). It was reported that the Mexican summit was mostly about the $$ and troops that the Mexican govt is requesting to combat the cartels. Then two weeks after Obama leaves, they sign this into law? We can’t get nothing done in THIS country that fast. Hell, it took us longer to provide Katrina relief in a state of an emergency b/c the bureaucrats on the hill wanted to dick around about pennies and dimes.
    I think the American govt put its approval on this so they can say later that it doesn’t work. That’s why the reports on the Mexican Summit were so vague and they aren’t reporting on the American govt’s feelings on this new legislation.

  33. Norml and fellow posters please help. Woke up this morning and read a letter to the editor from, which I believe could win the “reefer madness” award for 2009. This person is Maui’s number one prohibitionist, writing many letters through the years continually spreading lies and propaganda against the Cannabis plant. Sometimes hard for local folks to write public rebuttal letters (in their own neighborhood) for fear of bringing attention to themselves, so I am hoping that “The Maui News” letters to the editor will be flooded with letters from Cannabis supporters…from anywhere worldwide… exposing this nonsense for what it really is. Thank you all for your help…Aloha
    Posted 8/22/2009 The Maui News Letters to the Editor
    “Mainland news includes marijuana atrocities”
    There have been many news stories recently about pot users committing crimes, high on marijuana at the time, or else chronic users of the devil weed.
    The most horrifying and loathsome was Mainland pot smoker John Jackey Worman, who was sentenced to 120 years in prison Aug. 12 for making child pornography that shows him sexually assaulting children, including infants. Worman made girls in his care perform sex acts for school lunch money. He had more than 1 million images of child pornography when arrested. Worman described his childhood as a good one in which he was “free to do as he liked.” He started using marijuana and alcohol at age 11.
    Pot advocates ignore the deleterious effects of smoking marijuana, especially at a young age. Marijuana and alcohol impair development of the frontal lobe of the brain, the seat of morality, the will and spirituality. The frontal lobe is what largely sets humans apart from animals. Some researchers believe it takes as long as 30 years for it to fully develop. The frontal lobe of pot smokers and booze drinkers like John Jackey Worman never develop fully.
    Pot advocates are wrong, including medicinal use advocates. National Public Radio reports California medical marijuana stores are thriving. NPR reports most buyers are plainly recreational users, not sick. Some buyers are buying medicinal pot and reselling it at a profit to young people eager to get high – and permanently impair their developing brains. No to pot. No to alcohol.
    Jerome Kellner
    Just say NO TO JEROME KELLNER…please help All Cannabis supporters in Hawaii by making this guy look silly!!! Again…thank you.

  34. Next to getting busted with it, buying cannabis is arguably at least as dangerous because current drug policy protects a monopoly for violent, sociopathic, criminal drug profiteers. Being “allowed” to possess five grams of cannabis is a joke, and guarantees frequent contacts with criminal sellers, with each contact a real chance of being robbed, sold trash cannabis, etc. (I’ve known folks who spilled more than five grams by accident while using in a single evening, and never gave it a second thought.) This obvious problem of encouraging small quantities also holds true here, as increased penalties for larger quanties possessed tend to force users to make multiple small quantity purchases. Law enforcement wants users to make many purchases of very small quantities. This get more people involved more frequiently, which increases opportunities for law enforcement to make more arrests and up their statistics used to justify increased funding. Each transport and contact for purchase increases the odds of being busted. And law enforcement only needs to “turn” one in a network of users and sellers. They get names and other information and just waiit. They like to wait because they get paid for it. They call it investigating. And it works. Once they find out about you, it really is only a matter of time. Just as hurt people hurt people, busted people get people busted. This is the only way law enforcement is able to make hundreds of thousands of cannabis arrests every year, mostly for the promise of reduced charges. But back to Mexico, don’t even think about trying to get over on law enforcement in Mexico. They will shake down a gringo every time, for every cent, and that’s if you’re lucky.

  35. #28 Paul: Had some of the same questions popping about in my head. Last trip to Mexico Obummer said, “the US is committed to helping Mexico fight the drug war”.
    Another train of thought: I grew up in San Diego and as a young person it was fun to go to Tijuana and get drunk. I didn’t go often however, I went enough and it was never comfortable for me. If young people from Southern California end up going to Tijuana or beyond to score my gut instinct tells me this isn’t going to be pretty.
    Would love to be wrong about that …….
    Don’t give up Mark, Glenolden, PA. The more we educate ourselves on the issues the better we’ll be able to dispel the myths, the lies.
    NeuroG: Read your response to mine on the Marijuana word versus Cannabis. Still see it as a non issue at this point in time however, when involved in a conversation concerning the subject I’ll now be saying the Spanish word Marijuana was coined by Anslinger and blah … blah … blah … .

  36. #31 Fireweed Says:
    August 22nd, 2009 at 7:17 am

    “…In James C. Gordon’s book,
    “A Manifesto for a New Medicine”
    he discusses the advantages of herbal remedies
    over pharmaceuticals, one aspect of this he cites being that
    when only some of the chemicals of an herb are extracted,
    many of the unidentified substances that can mitigate side effects
    or that are an integral part of the herb’s effectiveness are removed,

    thereby decreasing its effectiveness and/or increasing its harmfulness.”

    RE: Fireweed,
    – Thank you for posting this info…
    I have always believed to be true;
    – Dr. Gordon’s comparisons can also be applied to
    basic food-products, such as whole orange-juice,
    (containing bioflavinoids, essential-minerals, B-vitamins, etc
    INTEGRAL to the orange…)
    synthetic ascorbic-acid,
    (not containing the synergistic co-factors found in oranges),
    or even “orange-flavored drinks”,
    (not containing anything found in oranges…)

  37. The Government wants us to believe that Mexico has legalized drugs. And as the problem in Mexico gets worse and worse the masses will be like, “well i guess legalization wasn’t the answer”.
    And that’s sad
    what should we do?

  38. People need to learn to be less afraid of the word “legal.” It does not mean an all out sprawl in drug use. It gives the government an opportunity to control who gets their hands on it. Why is that so hard to understand??

  39. keeping drug possession laws intact has gotten law-enforcement a foot in the door to search and detain many dangerous criminals. a fellow isnt likely to be arrested in parts of indiana right now for 3-4 joints but if hes causing trouble or otherwise needs slapped around by a judge then he well may. remember every lowlife seems to play with drugs.when your pulled by a cop, as long as i can remember they pretty quickly ask you where you work followed by how long have you been working there. tells the cop everything there ios to know about you. you WORK..

  40. “Legalization is the process of removing a “legal” prohibition against something which is currently not legal. Decriminalization removes criminal charges from an action, but leaves intact associated laws and regulations.” So why would I want to decriminalize something when their going to control and regulate it anyways? If that’s the case then I’d rather it be legal and have them control and regulate it. They want to go through the decriminalization process because it sounds so azz backwards. Just the way they like it. So am I to believe that even though the criminal charges are removed that their wouldn’t be a law or regulation that could still destroy lives? You tell us who gave you that or we’re going to lock you up. No, this wouldn’t happen. Yeah, right. They need to revamp the definition of decriminalization. Until then I see no other way but to legalize even though the supposed “proper” step is to first decriminalize then legalize. Can anyone tell me why this is the way to go? Is that what happened with alcohol. Decrimed then legalized? Or was it an outright legalization? Decrim just makes me feel like I’m chasing my fkn tail. The whole point of the fight for MJ was the fact that what we were told about it was a lie. Also that placing laws against this commodity would allow mega corporations to corner the market and make billions. Just like always, tell the American public what you want us to know then when the shyt hits the fan we get to clean it up. I know the truth and I won’t allow biased/false ideology to control my mind. Screw you’re mind games. “The truth shall set you free.” Unless it’s a benefit to lie.

  41. #47 Joel from PA Says:
    August 22nd, 2009 at 8:07 pm
    “…Why is that so hard to understand??”
    RE: It’s bee-cuzz Amerika iz ree-lee
    uh thurd-whirled nay-shun!!!

    written that NYT piece instead of who-the-fck!!!
    (Ethan defined the various shades-of-definition
    (during an NPR “All Things Considered” interview),
    just like Mr. Paul Armentano had done here at NORML!!!).

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