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Saturday, April 29, 2006
Mexico Decriminalizes Personal Drug Possession (and a Passing Mention of the Limbaugh Story)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:58 am

Given the current politics in the US of all things Mexican at the moment, the following (via Reuters) is likely to cause further angst (not to mention given the ONDCP fits): Mexico to decriminalize pot, cocaine and heroin

Possessing marijuana, cocaine and even heroin will no longer be a crime in Mexico if the drugs are carried in small amounts for personal use, under legislation passed by Congress.


Under the legislation, police will not penalize people for possessing up to 5 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 25 milligrams of heroin or 500 milligrams of cocaine.

People caught with larger quantities of drugs will be treated as narcotics dealers and face increased jail terms under the plan.

The legal changes will also decriminalize the possession of limited quantities of other drugs, including LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, amphetamines and peyote — a psychotropic cactus found in Mexico’s northern deserts.

On one level, I don’t like this at all, as I am wholly aware of the effects that these substances can have on people (although cleraly some are far more damaging than others). I personally don’t want the stuff near me or my family.

However, as public policy, despite the visceral reaction this decision will no doubt cause, it makes a great deal of sense. I will make two arguments in that regard.

First, from a resources point of view there are simply not enough law enforcement personnel to tackle the drug problem in Mexico (or any country) so choices have to be made. Even if one wholly accepts the notion that the best policy paradigm is one based in interdiction (an issue I am not convinced of-some discussion below), one has to allow for the fact that it is impossible to indict all the drugs, or to arrest every single person who even touches them. As such, it makes far more sense to go after persons with large amount of the substances to go after the petty user. Such a focus frees up police and other officials to focus on bigger time criminals and also frees up jail space (and therefore money). As an aside, the amount of money spent jailing people for drug possession in the US is quite remarkable-and jails are funded by you and me.

Second, I would prefer a drug policy approach to usage that focuses on the actions of the individual rather than on simple possession or usage. By this I mean, if a person wishes to get high in such a way that causes no ill effects to others, I do not see the state’s vested interest in stopping said individual any more than I see the state’s vested interest in stopping a person from drinking Jack Daniels in the privacy of their own home until they pass out. As such, I am an a proponent of Mill’s Harm Principle when it comes to regulating these behaviors.

This notion intersects the Rush Limbaugh case (for example: see WaPo’s Rush Limbaugh Turns Himself In On Fraud Charge In Rx Drug Probe) insofar as it is legitimate question to ask as to whether whatever Limbaugh was doing to himself with the Oxycontin in question justified the expense and time utilized by authorities in Florida to investigate and prosecute. Given the preponderance of other crimes taking place in Palm Beach County, Florida, can anyone actually say that pursuing Limbaugh was the best usage of those resources? (For more on Limbaugh see OTB).

Governing is about the allocation of resources, and there is one thing that I have definitively learned after quite a bit of study on the topic of our current course of policies on drugs: we are not doing a very good job of allocating resources. Consider the billions upon billions spent attempting to eradicate coca crops in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia in the last couple of decades. We have not substantially reduced supply of cocaine, nor of coca cultivation (indeed, as I noted recently, even where we allegedly had been having success in terms of hectares under cultivation in Colombia, it ends up that we were missing lots of cultivation).

It is madness to continue wasting taxpayer dollars, not to mention the devastating effects these policies have on real people, for a policy that is not working. Yet, continue we do.

I don’t pretend to have an easy answer to all of the questions on this topic, but am certain that we need a sustained national debate that we are unwilling to have.

I know that I don’t look forward to the knee-jerk reaction that it likely to roil though the ‘Sphere on this news.

More on this later, I suspect. I have to run.

Filed under: Latin America, War on Drugs, Talk Radio | |Send TrackBack


  1. So, it turns out Rush was lying.

    All those months when he said he was innocent and it was a “liberal” prosecutor witchhunt, was all lies as he was just negotiating a plea bargain.

    I don’t think he or most substance abusers should be imprisoned but I do enjoy lying weasels being exposed for what they are.

    Comment by Ed — Saturday, April 29, 2006 @ 12:09 pm

  2. A cost benefit analysis of prosecution is about the dumbest arguement I’ve ever heard in my life. Lets just add another layer of beaurcracy into the mix. “Oh nooo’s that man has a defense attorney. We can’t possible prosecute him that would cost too much $”

    The only reason this cost so much is because somebody lied. Instead of standing up and taking personal responsiblity Rush hid behind his defense attorneys. Trying to garner public support for his cause. When will you conservatives call it like it is. Rush didn’t take responsiblity, he wasted tax payer money in the process and basically ends up with a sweet heart deal that he only could have gotten being a rich white man.

    Also lets be a little clear. Rush wasn’t charged with drug possession like the Mexican law. Rush was charged with FRAUD. I don’t think the Mexican law covers FRAUD. So Rush has to pay some of the costs … Why not ALL the costs?

    Comment by Rubyeyes — Saturday, April 29, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

  3. Thanks for the comments, but I don’t think either of you are understanding my point. None of my post is to be construed as a defense of Limbaugh. Quite frankly, it seems you are both reacting to seeing his name as oppossed to reacting to anything that I wrote.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, April 29, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

  4. Rubyeyes,

    You miss the point entirely about cost/benefit. I am not talking about Limbaugh in a vacuum, but about the generic policy approach.

    Indeed, I was not arguing anything about Limbaugh’s specific case, but simply pointing to the behavior as an example of something that the law enforcement does spend a lot of time on. I question whether that is a good allocation of scarce public resources.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, April 29, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

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