Mexico's Drug Law Worries U.S. Police

Aug 27, 2009

Argentina, Mexico, Portugal

The Obama administration’s official position on the movement to decriminalize drug use in Latin America is to take a “wait-and-see attitude.” However, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne was willing to share his thoughts with the Associated Press:

"Now they will go [to Mexico] because they can get drugs. For a country that has experienced thousands of deaths from warring drug cartels for many years, it defies logic why they would pass a law that will clearly encourage drug use."

His quote illustrates one of the most baffling positions held by drug prohibitionists … that sending people to treatment instead of jail encourages drug use.

The logic Lansdowne can’t see is that drug use is not a criminal justice problem; it’s a public health problem. And when viewed in that light, it’s understandable why he got it wrong -- Lansdowne isn’t a doctor; he's a cop.

The impetus behind Mexico, Argentina, Switzerland, and Portugal (likely to be joined soon by Brazil and Ecuador) changing their drug laws is a decision to focus on treating addiction rather than punishing it. In doing so, they hope to free up law enforcement resources that are better spent fighting violent criminals (like the drug cartels in Mexico). Portugal, which changed its policy in 2001, has had great success -- and without becoming a destination for drug tourism.