The brief history of the legalization of drugs in Mexico, the myths, the controversy, and the consequences of this decision.
The brief lapse of time in which the drugs were legal in the country.
General Lázaro Cárdenas was our president from 1934 to 1940, who during the last year of his mandate ordered the legalization of drugs and opened dispensaries in which doctors gave doses to addicts in the framework of a treatment to overcome their dependence.
This story was written by the journalist and historian Froylán Enciso, in his book Our narcotic history: Passages to (re) legalize drugs in Mexico. The problem of this magnificent initiative, novel for Mexico in the mid-twentieth century, was that the United States threatened the government of Lázaro Cárdenas with suspending the drug trade and the Mexican president had to desist from that policy.
The sale and purchase of small quantities of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, were effectively decriminalized. Small-scale criminals were released from jail and drug addiction clinics in the city. Police officers drastically reduced arrests for drug offenses and half a dozen dispensaries were established in Mexico City.
Some conservative Mexican journalists thought that the measure ran the risk of provoking a wave of crime in the country. But most considered it a great success. In mid-March 1940, at least 1,000 addicts attended dispensaries daily to buy small controlled doses of cocaine and morphine under medical supervision and at market value.
By selling the best quality drugs, in a controlled manner and at much lower prices, the measure truncated the illegal trade. Government morphine sold at $ 3.20 pesos per gram. On the street, the same amount of heroin cost between $ 45 and $ 50 pesos. In addition, it was very diluted with lactose, sodium carbonate, and quinine. A pure gram probably cost about $ 500 pesos.
Those prices undermine distributors: traffickers in Mexico City lost $ 8,000 pesos a day. However, before six months passed, the legislation was annulled. On June 7, 1940, the government declared that the shortage of cocaine and morphine due to the war prevented the plan from working. The next punitive legislation of 1931 was introduced again the following month.
The Mexican legalization was a creation of a man: Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra. He was a medical doctor, studied psychiatry and neurology in France before returning to Mexico. In 1938 he was placed in charge of the Drug Addiction Hospital in Mexico City. During the next two years, Salazar wrote a series of academic articles and participated in press interviews that not only criticized the prohibitionist status quo, but also established the framework for a better system. Argued about the dangers of marijuana were very exaggerated. By systematically reviewing the medical studies on the substance, he pointed out inaccuracies, rumors, and erroneous applications of the data.
He also mocked the position of American doctors against the drug, which he said was based on erroneous quotations from the poetry inspired by the hash of the cursed poet Charles Baudelaire. Salazar also presented his own research on the subject carried out for seven years among a wide range of patients, including drug addicts, madmen, a handful of unsuspecting medical colleagues and politicians and even his 9-year-old nephew, who had once smoked by mistake. one of his cigarettes with marijuana. Salazar argued that drug addiction should be treated as a public health problem and not as a crime. He also talked about illegal trade, and its consequences: it corrupted the Mexican police force, which was paid to protect the big drug dealers, and increased prices, forcing users to commit crimes.
Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, predecessor agency of the DEA, put an end to the Mexican experiment. Just five days after the introduction of the law, the US Department of State. He invoked the 1935 amendments to the Law on Importation and Exportation of Narcotic Drugs. The amendments allowed the US to Establish an export embargo for narcotics such as morphine and cocaine when it considered that the objectives of a country were neither doctors nor scientists.
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico tried to argue its case alleging that the experiment was working and was certainly more efficient than the previous punitive system, Anslinger and the State Department remained defiant. In May 1940, all exports of morphine and cocaine were suspended. Without the cooperation of the German pharmaceutical companies blocked by the war, the Mexican authorities were forced to resign.
Nowadays the legalization of drugs remains a controversial issue. From 2006 to 2016, it is estimated that Mexico’s war on drugs has cost the lives of approximately 160,000 people.
Throughout the world, there are voices that urge to change the policy against drugs. Experts praise the success of Portugal’s experiment with decriminalization, while the United States competes to collect tax revenues from legalized marijuana.