Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A Step Forward or a 'Tragic Surrender'

Mexico this week took what is arguably an important step forward for building a liberal society. A new law decriminalises the possession of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs in amounts small enough "for personal and immediate use". The law has been passed by President Felipe Calderon in order to "regulate the issue" and to free resources and prison places.

The most telling part of this story though has probably been the reaction from Washington. One only has to look back to 2006 for American opposition to this policy in Mexico as pressure from the George W. Bush administration forced then President Vicente Fox to veto the bill. Guarded comment from the White House this time around suggests that the Obama administration is beginning to realise that the confrontational 'war on drugs' is not the best approach. American drug czar Gil Kerlikowske even said he would "wait and see".

But unsurprisingly there has been opposition to the new law on both sides of the border. Mexican officials fear that their country will become plagued by 'Latin Amsterdams' whilst others fear that the law sends out the wrong message as the Mexican government struggles to win their own war on drug trafficking. Meanwhile some in the southern states of America are concerned that the new law will inflict "a serious setback" to the battle against drugs. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is worried that "We now have an entire country on our southern border that is a haven for drug abuse".

Personally, I believe that fully developed states should not worry about legalising drugs. Once this is done it takes it out of the hands of drug dealers and can enter the free market where each individual is responsible for their own actions. This may be different in Mexico that famously suffers from an inherent drugs problem (only a couple of months ago many high-powered officials including mayors and judges were arrested on drug conspiracy charges) but America has probably done the right thing by patiently awaiting how successful this small step towards legalisation is. If such a policy can make a difference in Mexico then it will mean other countries will have to start taking the possibility of legalising drugs seriously.