Chris Uggen's Blog: legalize it?

Monday, May 01, 2006

legalize it?

mexico's senate passed a bill on friday that would decriminalize possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana, 0.5 grams of cocaine, 25 mgs of heroin, and two pounds of peyote. according to the washington post, cnn, and other sources, vicente fox is signaling that he will sign off on changes such as these to mexico's federal penal code:

Article 478: No criminal prosecution will be brought against...
II. Any drug addict or consumer who is found in possession of a narcotic for personal use. Article 474 defines a "consumer" as any person who consumes or uses psychotropic or narcotic substances, and who does not exhibit any symptoms of addiction.

legalization advocates such as ethan nadelman of the drug policy alliance are praising the measure, ostensibly for its potential to reduce low-level police corruption. i strongly favor ratcheting down lengthy drug sentences and collateral sanctions targeting drug offenders, such as housing and financial aid restrictions. nevertheless, the prospect of legal heroin gives me the willies.

although legalization seems to function ok in the netherlands, someone will have to convince me how this is a good deal for mexicans or americans. at best, the move will diminish the social harm associated with harsh and erratic enforcement (though i can imagine, say, san diego kids getting twenty years hard time for stuff they did legally in tijuana). at worst, the prevalence of use will increase and both locals and tourists could pick up some potentially life-changing habits.

given the two-pound peyote limit, one thing is certain: we'll see more carlos castaneda-like writing from students doing spring break in cancun and mazatlan.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

Interesting post!

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Is it just me, or does the man in the photo look like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Springsteen's love child?

In my youth, home-grown marijuana (up to three plants, for personal use) was legal in Alaska. Marijuana became illegal roughly the same year the drinking age was raised to 21.

I was too young to pay much attention to studies of the effect of criminalization. (Assuming, that is, one could even hope to tease out such an effect.) I do, however, remember thinking it was odd that Alaskans agreed to it.

First, Alaskans have a strong libertarian bent, particularly when "the government" comes in the form of known-nothing bu-rrow-krats from the Lower 48. (A term that is as much a comment on status as it is on geography.)

Second, I never quite understood why Alaskans responded to the threat of the withdrawal of federal highway funds. It's not like Alaska is, or was, teeming with interstates.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Mike W. said...

There's an animated gif of Arnold smoking that somewhere out on the internets.

While I'm not ready to commit to blanket decriminalization for small amounts, I'd say it's positive to see policies that seek to discern between drug users and drug sellers. Many low lever soc/crim texts often cite the structural racism of sentences in several states in the US that offered the same penalties for possession of 5 grams of crack versus 500 grams of cocaine (clearly creating race, class, and occupational discrepancies). While I don't know precisely when/where those similarities existed, I do know that regarding people who use drugs and people who sell drugs similarly is incorrect and poor policy.

Now, if these policies would include confiscation of the narcotics (they may), and/or mandatory drug treatment for people who are repeatedly found with minor amounts of drugs, I'd feel better about it. I don't think drug use/possession should be so heavily criminalized (though of course not those property/violent offenses taken on by those who are trying to acquire more), but I don't think that "blankent amnesty" (a recent term of endearment in the media in its own right) is an answer either.

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous chris said...

thanks, jessica, kim, and mike.

i'm really intrigued with the alaska experience. the 3-plant limit makes it sound like growing tomatoes. somebody must've studied the effects on the prevalence of use, but i can't think of any studies offhand.

my reaction to these developments often makes me feel conservative or, more precisely, like a modest incremental reformer. if the shoe fits...


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