Mexico Decrim. Small Amounts of Drugs

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-05-2009
Mexico Decrim. Small Amounts of Drugs
Sat, 08-22-2009 - 10:01am

Mexico decriminalizes small-scale drug possession

MEXICO CITY — Mexico enacted a controversial law Thursday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs while encouraging free government treatment for drug dependency.

The law sets out maximum "personal use" amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities will no longer face criminal prosecution when the law goes into effect Friday.

Anyone caught with drug amounts under the personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment, and for those caught a third time treatment is mandatory — although the law does not specify penalties for noncompliance.

Mexican authorities said the change just recognized the long-standing practice here of not prosecuting people caught with small amounts of drugs that they could reasonably claim were for personal use, while setting rules and limits.

Under previous law, possession of any amount of drugs was punishable by stiff jail sentences, but there was leeway for addicts caught with smaller amounts. In practice, nobody was prosecuted and sentenced to jail for small-time possession, said Bernardo Espino del Castillo, the coordinator of state offices for the attorney general's office.

"We couldn't charge somebody who was in possession of a dose of a drug, there was no way ... because the person would claim they were an addict," he added.

"This person obviously couldn't be charged, not yesterday, not the day before, not a year ago, but the bad thing was that it was left up to the discretion of the detective, and it could open the door to corruption or extortion."

In the past, police sometimes hauled suspects to police stations and demanded bribes, threatening long jail sentences if people did not pay.

"This is not legalization, this is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty ... for a practice that was already in place," Espino del Castillo said.

In 2006, the U.S. government publicly criticized a similar bill. Then President Vicente Fox sent that law — which did not have a mandatory treatment provision — back to Congress for reconsideration.

The maximum amount of marijuana considered to be for "personal use" under the new law is 5 grams — the equivalent of about four joints. The limit is a half gram for cocaine, the equivalent of about 4 "lines." For other drugs, the limits are 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams for LSD.

The law was approved by Congress before it recessed in late April, and President Felipe Calderon, who is leading a major offensive against drug cartels, waited most of the summer before enacting it.

Calderon's original proposal would have required first-time detainees to complete treatment or face jail time. But the lower house of Congress, where Calderon's party was short of a majority, weakened the bill.

Mexico has emphasized the need to differentiate drug addicts and casual users from the violent traffickers whose turf battles have contributed to the deaths of more than 11,000 people during Calderon's term. In the face of growing domestic drug use, Mexico has increased its focus on prevention and drug treatment.

Sen. Pablo Gomez of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party praised the legislation: "This law achieves the decriminalization of drugs, and in exchange offers government recovery treatment for addicts."

Previously, possession of any amount of drugs was punishable by stiff jail sentences, with some leeway for those considered addicts and caught with smaller amounts. But in practice, relatively few people were prosecuted and sentenced to jail for small-time possession.

While the United States openly expressed concern about the 2006 law, this time around it has been more circumspect.

Asked about the new law in July, U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said he would adopt a "wait-and-see attitude."

"If the sanction becomes completely nonexistent I think that would be a concern, but I actually didn't read quite that level of de facto (decriminalization) in the law," said Kerlikowske, who heads the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.


Good idea?  Bad?  Something that might work in the US?


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-18-2000
Sat, 08-22-2009 - 10:17am

Mexico has more to worry about than wasting time/resources



iVillage Member
Registered: 02-05-2009
Sun, 08-23-2009 - 10:50am

Maybe if the US took a different approach, things like below wouldn't happen.

Thousands languish in crowded jail
Inmates can stay locked up more than a year waiting for trial in low-level crimes


A county consultant has recommended inmate case processing should not exceed six months.

11,000: Inmates regularly jailed in Harris County facilities

1,880: Detained pretrial on a single drug possession charge

1,200: Waiting more than six months to be judged

500: Waiting more than a year to be judged

Sources: Houston Chronicle analysis of inmates jailed in July; Harris County consultant's June report on jail crowding.

More than half of the 11,500 inmates crammed into the Harris County Jail have not yet been found guilty of a crime but await their day in court confined with convicted criminals in conditions that repeatedly flunk state and federal safety inspections.

The most common accusation against them: possession of a crack pipe or minuscule amount of drugs.

Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, at least 500 county inmates have been locked up for more than a year as they wait to be judged, according to an analysis of inmate data by the Houston Chronicle.

About 1,200 have been jailed six months or more though many face only minor felony charges, such as bouncing checks, credit card fraud, trespassing or even civil violations. In fact, around 200 inmates, theoretically innocent until proven guilty, appear to already have served more than the minimum sentence for the crime they allegedly committed, based on the newspaper's analysis of inmate data provided by the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

That's what happened to 60-year-old Billy Holmes. Twice.

Holmes was arrested the morning of May 16, 2005, by two officers who said he fled when they responded to a disturbance call. Holmes, who has a pair of 20-year-old prior felony convictions, waited nearly a year in jail for his first trial. Then in March 2006, Holmes testified in his own defense that the search was illegal and the pipe wasn't his. As a black man, he argued, he'd been unfairly chased and arrested after being approached as he stood holding a garden hoe and chatting with a friend in front of his home.

The jury split. It took five hours of deliberations before jurors decided he was guilty after reviewing statements from arresting officers who said they found the pipe in his hip pocket. He got the minimum sentence of six months.

By then, Holmes already had served more time than the given sentence as he awaited trial in Harris County's jail.

in June that the county explore alternatives to prosecution for minor nonviolent offenses, release more inmates before trial and try to process all but the most complicated cases, like those involving the death penalty, in less than six months.

Drug charges common

Harris County faces the threat of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over inhumane and unsafe conditions in its jails, chock full of low-level drug offenders like Holmes. In fact, about a third of all county jail inmates face drug possession charges.

Only a handful of accused felons — just 376 out of more than 38,000 cases last year — get released before trial based on their own pledge to appear when required, according to reports from the county's own Pretrial Services program. That's a tiny fraction of the 14,966 people who scored as low risk in pretrial interviews last year, one of the major factors judges consider in making bonding decisions. As a result, many people who can't afford to post bail simply stay in jail, including some accused only of misdemeanors.

“We're looking at all of that, on scheduling of court cases and so forth, about giving priority to jail cases,” said District Attorney Pat Lykos. “Right now you cannot tell by looking at the case how long someone has been in jail ... I can't give you answers right now because we don't have the data to base a rational answer, but we're going to get it and we're going to get it soon.”

In all, thousands of inmates accused of nonviolent crimes but not yet convicted remain packed into cells so crowded that many sleep on mattresses on the floor. Others are shipped to overflow cells that Harris County rents 387 miles away in Epps, La., at a cost of $9 million last year.

“That's one of the ... biggest travesties,” said Mark Hochglaube, a Houston attorney who has studied the problem as part of a county committee on indigent defense. Even a person who claims innocence, Hochglaube argues, when faced with the possibility of being locked up for months before getting to trial, will likely plead guilty because first offenders often can get out sooner if they don't fight.

Holmes, his lawyer Joseph Varela says, insisted on his right to trial — even though in the end, it meant Holmes served far more time than he would have otherwise. In fact, Holmes has racked up about 800 days in jail at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $32,000 related to his charge of possession of a lone crack pipe — a minimum of $40 a day not counting legal or court costs, transportation and other expenses.

Houston attorney Patrick McCann, a long-time activist on criminal defense issues, said he believes that the judges' reluctance to release drug and other nonviolent, low-level offenders who can't pay bail is the biggest factor behind the county's dangerous jail overcrowding.

Caseload is another factor keeping people locked up longer. The county's 22 district courts handled 45,163 cases filed in 2008, while a decade ago, they handled 27,628 cases. Half of Harris County's district courts have backlogs of a year or longer for 50 or more felony cases involving jailed inmates, the Chronicle analysis showed. Some defendants have waited as long as three years or more to see their cases resolved.

A group of Harris County judges recently requested that the county commissioners fund a public defenders office to handle criminal appeals and so-called state jail felonies, low-level cases that commonly clog the jails and courts. So far the commissioners have not responded to that request.

Instead that proposal has been folded into the work of Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a group formed to study bond, prosecution and other systemic problems behind a 50 percent boom in the jail population from 7,600 in January 2004 to 11,500 in February 2009, the county consultant's report says. The county's annual bill: more than $192 million.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-18-2000
Sun, 08-23-2009 - 11:18am

These minor offences are clogging-up the system.

As the article mentions... >"Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, at least 500 county inmates have been locked up for more than a year as they wait to be judged, according to an analysis of inmate data by the Houston Chronicle."< Waiting a year to go to trial is ridiculous when a fine &/or treatment would suffice.

>"The county's annual bill: more than $192 million."<

This could pay for a whole lot of treatment.