Is Calderon Giving In to the Drug Lords?

Although the Obama administration made quite a show last spring of teaming up with Mexico to help defeat ruthless drug cartels that operate their import-export business in both countries, it’s obvious that the United States doesn’t have its heart in this fight.

For instance, most of the $1.4 billion approved by Congress in the Merida Initiative still hasn’t been delivered.

But what’s really surprising is that now it seems Mexico might not be fully committed to the battle either. Even after arresting more than 50,000 drug suspects and suffering more than 11,000 casualties, some Mexican authorities still seem uneasy having “stirred the hornet’s nest.” The Mexican people are both tired of the conflict and terrified by it. And some political leaders are even looking to find a way to accommodate the drug trade and get back to the way things used to be.

There are those who say that one way to cool things off would be to legalize drugs. And that is essentially what the Mexican Congress did recently by passing a law that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD and methamphetamine while encouraging publicly-funded treatment for drug dependency. The law spells out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs -- 5 grams of marijuana, half a gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine, and 0.015 milligrams of LSD.

Anyone caught with these small amounts or less will no longer face criminal prosecution. Instead, for the first two offenses, they'll be encouraged to seek drug treatment. On the third offense, treatment is mandatory.

President Felipe Calderon, the same person who started the drug war in the first place, recently signed the bill into law. Mexican authorities downplay the change by insisting that it has long been the practice of prosecutors to not charge people caught with small quantities of drugs.

That may be, but now it’s the law. And that sends a different message: that Mexico is retreating in the drug war.