Mexico: The Law Against Small-Scale Drug Dealing

A Doubtful Venture
Jorge Hernández Tinajero & Carlos Zamudio Angles
Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 3
November 2009

dlrIn August 2009, Mexico adopted a new law against small-scale drug dealing, which introduces some significant advances in key subjects, such as the recognising of and distinguishing between user, drug addict and dealer. However it still has significant flaws in continuing to treat demand and supply of drugs as a criminal and market phenomenon that are likely to undermine its successful application.

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In 2008, in the face of exponential growth in organised crime, violence and the alarming rise in drug consumption in Mexico over the preceding years, President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa proposed a bill to the Congress of the Union as part of his general security strategy. Its aim is to fight small-scale drug dealing, known in Mexico as "narcomenudeo".

The law against small-scale drug dealing is the term coined by the media that refers to the proposal to reform, add to and repeal various orders of three Mexican federal laws: the General Health Law (LGS), the Federal Penal Code (CPF), and the Federal Code of Penal Proceedings (CFPP). The law was passed by both legislative Houses of Congress in April 2009, and came into effect on August 21.

Positive aspects of the new law

  • The law recognises and distinguishes between user, drug addict and dealer, which opens a door to future development of the rights of consumers, whether they are addicts or not.
  • Allows the possibility of initiating a public debate on individual rights and limits of the State on the subject of freedom of personal choice and of consumer rights
  • Includes harm reduction as a State policy, which signifies the possibility of demanding increased resources for this policy on a national level;
  • Preserves the traditional use of certain drugs by the country’s indigenous peoples.

Negative aspects of the new law

  • It lacks an integral approach for dealing with the demand and supply of drugs as a cultural and health phenomenon as much a criminal and market one.
  • It gives encouragement to crime, as it allows undercover police to simulate buying drugs in order to incriminate traffickers.
  • It does not resolve the intrinsic illegality of the consumer as it does not consider a safe and legal way for people to access the drugs they are allowed to possess.
  • It ignores real police capacity to confront the economic violence of drug trafficking and exposes more police to their capacity of corruption and co-option.
  • It criminalizes and gives hard-line penalties to consumers caught and brought before the authorities for crimes which are inherent to the act of consumption.
  • It establishes disproportionate prison sentences for those who enter the illegal drug market due to lack of economic opportunity, which signifies an obvious risk for the most vulnerable layers of the community such as peasants, young people and women.

The authors are members of Colectivo por una Política Integral hacia las Drogas (CUPIHD).