Saturday, May 20, 2006

On Ted Carpenter and Mexico's aborted decriminalization law, May 2006. An attempted fulfillment of 2000 implied promise?

Ted Galen Carpenter at Cato Institute outlined the highlights of the drug prohibition in Mexico that are part of the background to the recent action of Mexico's Congress to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of now-illegal drugs for National Review Online. His critique of the Mexican initiative, vetoed by President Vicente Fox, after he initially said he would sign it, is both the standard libertarian drug war analysis, and correct -- as far as it goes:

. . . . the Mexican reformers showed no willingness to legalize the production or sale of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other drugs to deflate the black-market premium. Indeed, they argued that the decriminalization measure would enable law-enforcement agencies to devote more personnel and resources to suppressing trafficking. The basic prohibitionist strategy would have remained intact. The vast potential profit in the drug trade would persist—and so would the corruption and violence that is tearing Mexico's society apart.

Ted however makes a prediction,
given Washington's fanaticism on the subject, the prospects for intelligent reform anytime soon are virtually nonexistent.

Later, I will reflect on the puzzle of whether "anytime soon" is longer, shorter or the same as "soon" as far as drug policy reform goes.

Ted may be right the centrality of Washington's "fanaticism" to this veto, but we must consider that at least four particulars are likely to have influenced Fox's reversal and veto:

(1) Fox's long-standing relationship with former Texas Governor George W. Bush.

(2) The intense battle over immigration and the status of the U.S.-Mexico border being waged among Republicans in Washington, and the stakes for Mexico in that battle.

(3) The fact that there is a Presidential election in Mexico on July 2, and if the candidate of Fox's party, Felipe Calderon, wins, it will be, in important respects, a political vindication of Fox's six-year presidency (the first non PRI- president, I think since the Mexican Revolution). See the analysis of the status of the candidates for presidential Jorge Castaneda in The Los Angeles Times on May 9.

(4) The real potential that "Washington fanaticism" regarding drug decriminalization would trigger economic, trade and border security retaliation for Mexican drug decriminalization by a U.S. Congress facing its own intense electoral struggle in less than six months

Ted is right that businesses in Mexico are being hurt by the consequences of drug prohibition, but the new and real consequences they would face from border-tightening measures could be acute in the short-term, and catastrophic in the long-term, and must have been weighed by President Fox, himself a former business leader in Mexico.

It is no secret that Fox has been sympathic for decriminalization or legalization. This was known before his inauguration in December 2000 as Drug War Chronicle noted then. Phil Smith's comprehensive report for Drug War Chronicle noted that two key Fox appointees, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda and Alejandro Gertz Manero, Minister of Public Security had publicly supported decriminalization, like Holland, or more, long before their nominations.

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