Mexico decriminalises drug possession

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Vicente Fox, Mexico's President, is to sign into law a measure that decriminalises the possession of small amounts of drugs including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, his spokesman said.

Ruben Aguilar defended the law, which was approved on Friday by the Senate, despite criticism by some in the US that it could increase casual drug use. Mr Aguilar said the legislation "allows better action and better co-ordination in the fight against drug dealing.

"The government believes that this law represents progress, because it established the minimum quantities that a citizen can carry for personal use."

Under current Mexican law, judges can drop charges against people caught with drugs if they can prove they are addicts and if an expert certifies they were caught with "the quantity necessary for personal use". The new bill makes the decriminalisation automatic and allows "consumers" as well as addicts to have drugs.

While police will still be able to detain people for public consumption or possession, it appears they wouldonly be referred to a treatment programme, of which Mexico has few, or become registered "addicts".

Jerry Sanders, the Mayor of San Diego, in California, said he was "appalled". The city of 1.3 million people is a short drive from the Mexican border town of Tijuana. "I certainly think we are going to see more drugs available in the United States," he said.

Under the new law, consumers may possess up to 25 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of marijuana (about one-fifth of an ounce), or 0.5 grams of cocaine.