The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform


In recent years, Mexico has become the frontline for drug-war violence.

Since a decision in late 2006 by Mexican president Felipe Calderón to send federal troops to the Mexican state of Michoacán to battle drug cartels there, it is estimated that 60,000 people have died in drug-war related violence across the country.

Advertised as a measure intended to focus law-enforcement priorities on combating traffickers and ‘small-scale drug dealing’ in lieu of drug users, Mexico decriminalised possession of small amounts of drugs in 2009.

The Attorney General is instructed not to prosecute individuals found in possession of less than 5 grams of cannabis, 0.5 grams of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, or one ecstasy tablet, among other minimum quantities.

While news of Mexico’s decriminalisation law made headlines around the world as a bold step in drug policy reform when President Calderón signed it in 2009, many have criticised the law as more of a symbolic decriminalisation than one that will have a significant effect on the lives of Mexicans. In particular, the low maximum quantity thresholds carry risk of categorizing users as traffickers.

In November 2012, a bill to legalise the production, sale and use of marijuana was presented to lawmakers. Although unlikely to pass, this is a symbol of the change in Mexico following two US states voting to allow recreational use of marijuana in Nov 6 election. If marijuana is legal in parts of the US, it complicates Mexico’s attempts to prevent traffic of the drug across the border.

However, many analysts are optimistic that a legal market in these US states will damage Mexican drug cartels, reducing their annual income from roughly $6 billion to about $4.6 billion – although a strong federal crackdown on legalized marijuana could negate these effects.

Mexico’s success in fighting the cartels is limited. While only 12 of the 37 cartel leaders listed as the Government’s most wanted in 2009 are still at large, the murder rate is nearly twice as high as it was when President Calderón first sent troops to fight the drug lords in 2006.