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Mexico drug decriminalization to create ‘monster,’ Southern Baptist ethicist says

MEXICO CITY (BP)–Mexico’s decision to legalize possession of illicit drugs is “terribly misguided,” a Southern Baptist ethicist said in decrying Mexican lawmakers’ claim that the new policy will help them crack down on suppliers.

“If they thought they had a problem with drugs before, wait until they see the monster they create with this policy,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Demand will skyrocket and so will supply.”

A bill presented by Mexico President Vicente Fox and approved by that country’s Congress April 28 would allow citizens to possess small amounts of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other harmful drugs in an effort to slow a rapidly escalating drug problem.

No charges will be brought against addicts or consumers found in possession of any narcotic for personal use, the bill, which Fox is expected to sign, says.

Supporters of the legislation have said it is meant to strengthen drug enforcement efforts by enabling police to focus on major drug dealers rather than using up resources on jailing addicts.

But, somehow, the move came as a shock to the United States, Reuters news service noted, because Fox had been a strong ally in the war on drugs and no mention of the legislation was made when a delegation from the House of Representatives visited Mexico just days before it passed.

“I would say any law that decriminalizes dangerous drugs is not very helpful,” Judith Bryan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, told Reuters. “Drugs are dangerous. We don’t think it is the appropriate way to go.”

As the immigration debate sweeps America, Mexico’s new drug law could spark additional tensions, as evident in San Diego where Mayor Jerry Sanders called the idea “appallingly stupid, reckless and dangerous.”

“I view this as a hostile action by a longtime ally of the U.S.,” the mayor said at a new conference, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

San Diego officials said they fear the impact that decriminalizing drugs would have on California teenagers who already flock to bars south of the border because of the legal drinking age of 18 in Mexico. Such teens had typically avoided drugs because of fears of being caught, they said.

Duke said the new legislation does not bode well for the already-strained relations between the United States and Mexico.

“Now we are faced with a neighbor who shares a 2,000-mile border with us, where it will soon be legal to possess illicit drugs,” he said in a statement to Baptist Press. “Should this occur, we can be certain that people crossing into the United States from Mexico will have these drugs in their possession. So we are looking at more arrests at the border. Just when we were about to make serious strides at stemming illegal immigration from Mexico, the Mexican government decides to heap more pressure on our border patrol. That’s not very neighborly.”

By its action, Mexico’s Congress has confirmed the need for the United States to secure its southern border, Duke added.

“Mexico is admitting that they have a drug problem they cannot control. Their admission of this failure intensifies the absolute imperative that we secure our border,” he said. “Now we must be concerned not only with illegal workers coming to our country, we must also be concerned about the increased flow of drugs from a country that admits it cannot control the flow of illicit drugs, and where anyone may soon be allowed to walk around with some of the most deadly and destructive drugs known to man. The government of Mexico has just made matters worse.”

Fox proposed the law in January 2004 in response to a steep increase in drug violence, a problem that has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the past year, The New York Times reported. According to The Washington Post, Mexican drug cartels have taken a larger role in the market as Colombia’s major players have been arrested and crimes are especially bad in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas.

Four undercover drug agents were shot to death in March in Nuevo Laredo, and two police officers were decapitated in April in the resort city of Acapulco, The Post said.

“Mexico is becoming the second Columbia,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, D.-Texas, told The Post. “This is a serious and a ruthless situation.”

In addition to the increase in drug-related gang killings, Mexico has seen a spike in prostitution, robbery and burglary corresponding to drug use.

The approved legislation would give local police and judges more power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be prosecuted when caught with small amounts of drugs, compared to the current law which prosecutes every drug suspect, The New York Times reported.

Also, local officials would be allowed to arrest and prosecute street dealers possessing more than the legal limit of drugs, whereas only federal officials can exercise such authority now.

The new drug law would require people caught with less than the legal limit to go before a judge, prove they are addicts and seek treatment, The Times said. All sales of drugs would remain illegal.

Such a system, supporters say, would free up space in Mexico’s prisons for hardcore drug peddlers that is currently occupied by small-time addicts.

“This law gives police and prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes that do so much damage to our youth and children,” Ruben Aguilar, a spokesperson for Fox, said.

Duke said he hopes Fox will act in the best interest of his citizens and strengthen his country’s relationship with its northern neighbor by stopping the legislation.

“Decriminalizing drug possession is a bad idea for any country that wants to help its people reach their fullest potential,” he said. “I hope President Fox decides that he wants something better for his citizens than the haze their Congress is about to let fall over their nation.”

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  • Erin Roach