Mexico’s President is Seriously Considering Legalizing Drugs

Countries are beginning to wake up to the idea that drug wars may enact a much greater cost on society than the drugs themselves. In hindsight, the drug war in America has cost trillions that may have been better spent on rehabilitation programs or simply giving the money back to taxpayers.

Over one million people are arrested each year for drug possession in America, and it costs up to $60,000 a year, on average, just to house someone in prison — and those aren’t the only costs. When people are incarcerated it takes a big toll on their children, family members, and community.

Countless people who are casual, recreational users get wrapped up in the court system, destroying their lives.

The black market for drugs is a major reason for gang violence and crime. What if these substances were made as safe as possible by companies that don’t have to resort to violence?

Plus, to see things from a civil libertarian perspective, why should the government be able to tell its citizens what it can and cannot ingest? Why not just arrest people when they’ve committed a crime under the influence instead of making the drugs themselves the target of law enforcement?

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is planning to end its drug war by implementing a five-year plan that would offer users treatment instead of punishment by redirecting “the resources currently destined to combat their transfer and apply them in programs — massive, but personalized — of reinsertion and detoxification,” Obrador’s policy statement read.

AMLO would like to see the United States change its drug policies with an eye towards legalization as well. The U.S. currently imports $19 to $29 billion worth of Mexican cartel drugs each year. Offering legal alternatives stateside would help to drastically curb the corrupt drug activity in Mexico.

“Public safety strategies applied by previous administrations have been catastrophic: far from resolving or mitigating the catastrophe has sharpened it,” AMLO’s statement read, adding that “prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable.”

“Mexico’s president is rightly identifying one of the major drivers of violence and corruption in his country: the prohibition of drugs,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Newsweek. “The next step is to translate words into action, by pursuing both a domestic and international agenda of drug policy reform, grounded in respect for human rights.”

AMLO’s announcement comes as the country has seen a sharp rise in drug use among its citizens.

So what would happen if Mexico legalized drugs? It would clearly see a huge drop in expenditures due to the drug war. But would drug use among its citizens skyrocket? If one considers the example of Portugal, no.

In 2001, Portugal significantly decriminalized drug use. If someone is caught with less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, they don’t receive jail time. Instead, they face a hearing three-person panel made up with a doctor, a lawyer, and a social worker who decide the person’s fate.

After the hearing, the person either receives treatment, a small fine or walks away Scott-free. Most of the time there is no penalty.

Since the law went into effect, the country has seen a decline in drug use among those 15 to 24 years old.

Drug-induced deaths have also decreased.

Portugal has also seen a decline in the percentage of the overall population who have tried drugs.

Recent efforts in the decriminalization of marijuana stateside are beginning to show some positive effects. In 2014, Colorado legalized marijuana and, counter-intuitively, it led to a drop in marijuana use among teens.

A study out of Georgia State University found that states that legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes saw a 15% drop in alcohol sales and states where it was legal for recreational purposes saw a 20% drop.

In 2018, the state of Colorado pulled in $270 Million in tax revenue from the 1.2 billion worth of pot sold in the state that year.

If Mexico goes through with its plan to decriminalize drugs it’ll be a great way to determine whether similar policy measures would be effective in the United States. However, if the recent effects of marijuana legalization hold true, then there’s already a reason to explore similar policies in the U.S. right now.

Photos: Reuters, Adrian Mealand/Flickr, Archivo Medios Públicos EP/ Flickr, D. Sinclair Terrasidius / Flickr.

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