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Mexico’s president refuses to sign bill that would legalize possession of illicit drugs

MEXICO CITY (BP)–Mexican President Vincente Fox, in a surprise reversal, announced he will not sign a drug bill legalizing possession of illicit drugs passed by Mexico’s Congress five days earlier.

Fox, in a May 3 statement, said he will ask the Congress to change the bill “to make it absolutely clear in our country, the possession of drugs and their consumption are, and will continue to be, a criminal offense.”

Fox’s statement noted a “sensitivity toward the opinions expressed by various sectors of society” about the proposed law.

Earlier that day, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Judith Bryan, said U.S. officials had “urged Mexican representatives to review the legislation urgently to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico, and to prevent drug tourism.”

The mayor of San Diego, just across the Mexican border, had voiced strong opposition to the bill, as had an official with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC vice president for public policy, had called Mexican lawmakers’ claims “terribly misguided” that the proposed law would help authorities give more attention to broader drug enforcement issues.

“If they thought they had a problem with drugs before, wait until they see the monster they create with this policy,” Duke had said. “Demand will skyrocket and so will supply.”

In the days prior to Fox’s reversal, his spokesman had praised the bill and insisted that Fox would quickly sign it, Reuters news service reported. The initial version of the bill had been drafted by Fox’s office and introduced by his National Action Party.

Controversy over the bill erupted over its provision that “consumers” as well as addicts could possess small amounts of heroin (25 milligrams), cocaine 500 milligrams), marijuana (5 grams) and other harmful drugs such as LSD so that law enforcement officials could turn more of their attention on drug dealers and the country’s escalating drug-related violence.

The law threatened to become a major point of contention in the immigration debate.

Duke, for example, said the law “intensifies the absolute imperative that we secure our border. 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.”

Defenders of the proposed law had contended that it would give added power to state and local police — not just federal officers — to take action against drug dealers, the Associated Press reported, while also strengthening various penalties and closing loopholes used by drug dealers to avoid prosecution.

Mexico’s Congress is in recess for the summer, during which elections will be held July 2, which will determine Fox’s successor and, likely, the fate of any revisions to the proposed law.

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