Perhaps it’s time to rethink our drug policy

The Mexican government recently decided to weaken its drug use laws, effectively dismissing everything the DEA has fought for the past few decades. In Mexico, drug users can now be in legal possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine and heroin. And there is decent justification, as Mexican prisons are critically overpopulated, with many prisoners serving time for minor drug charges.
This is certainly a risky move on Mexico’s behalf. On the international scene, the decision represents an equally bold and grand social experiment, one that loudly declares the shortcomings of a failed drug war on both sides of the Mexico/United States border.
But this isn’t the first country we’ve seen decriminalize small-time drug use. Mexico’s drug policy mirrors those found in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Portugual and Columbia. There appears to be an emerging concerted effort on the drug war front, one calling for reorganization and change.
Mexican politicians claim that by eliminating jail time for recreational drug users, law enforcement will theoretically have more time and energy to pursue powerful dealers and smugglers. It should be noted that the new laws in Mexico are tougher on those selling drugs.
American officials worry Mexico’s relaxed drug laws will encourage drug tourism, the idea that a drug user will cross the border to get high. While this may be a valid concern, I doubt recreational drug users will commit to the time and effort required to cross international borders. As a precaution against drug tourists, it would be appropriate of the Mexican government to criminalize the act of foreign recreational drug use.
We see this frightened, knee-jerk reaction from American politicians all too often. Stay the course, they preach. Legalization is a form of endorsement, they declare. Meanwhile, thousands of people are dying, many of them innocent, all because they are caught in the tangled drug war web.
Mexico’s new position on drugs gives the United States an opportunity to reflect on its own costly drug war. Can it be said we’ve made progress or experienced change? Are the streets any safer? Are kids just saying no? Are drug kingpins serving hard time? If anything, the drug game has become something of a giant, convoluted mess, full of crooked, murderous people.
It’s easy for a state not sharing a border with Mexico to either criticize or applaud Mexico’s stance on recreational drug use. In Southern California, it often feels as if we’re on the front lines of this drug war. We’ve experienced an increasing influx of creative drug smuggling techniques, and the danger factor will only increase if nothing is done.
Which is why it’s time we rethink our drug war methodology. Zero tolerance has never been — nor will it ever be — a practical approach to addiction and drug abuse. Nonsensical drug war rationalization from the religious right offers very little practical advice in regards to treatment options.
We should approach drug abuse as a public health issue. I’ve never understood the sense in throwing an addict in a crowded jail with fellow addicts. This particular “treatment” model only seems to perpetuate the problem.
There are bound to be glitches with this new law in Mexico, but it is disturbingly asinine to practice failed drug war techniques. Perhaps all we need is a slight nudge from our neighbors to the south.


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