Skip to content

Addiction is not a crime, Supremes rule

19 September 2009

The string of “executions” (a polite word for mass slaughter) at addictions treatment centers in Juarez highlighted a possible problem with the changes in the drug possession laws.  Although the Chihuahua State Prosecutor’s office (often accused of being inept and jejune about criminal investigations) makes a good point when they say that addictions treatment centers are sometimes used as hideouts by gangsters on the lam, there is the more serious problem that the centers that have been attacked were unlicensed facilities and there is no good oversight of private treatment facilities.

What constitutes treatment, and who would be sent to treatment under the “reformed” drug law was not clear.  With no definition of what “treatment” was mandated, this could mean anything from attendance at 12-step meetings (which believe their success depends on voluntary mutual assistance, and refuse state sponsorship) to religious centers (as at least two of the Juarez centers were) to for-profit facilities run by the same folks who run them in the United States.  In other words, a boondoggle ripe with possibilities for fraud.

A second problem was that identifying an “addict” is largely a matter of police discretion.  Ideally, it isn’t worth the officer’s time and trouble to detain users, but there is the danger that an officer might pick on someone, or single out a regular user for “special consideration.”

Finally, the Constitution — in Article I — specifically states that “All discrimination motivated by … health conditions… or anything else that may be against human dignity and have as its object to restrict or reduce the rights and liberties of persons, remains prohibited.

The Supreme Court (or six out of five of them, anyway) agreed that drug addiction is a health condition.

(translated from an 18 September El Universal report by Carlos Avilés Allende):

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling that is intended to ensure that drug addicts are not treated as criminals, but as patients.

In a close six to five decision, the high court declared that Article 199 of the Federal Penal Code, adopted August 19, was unconstitutional in that it requires the prosecution of addicts caught in possession of drugs for personal consumption.

The Court ruling protects an addict who was arrested with a quantity of cocaine for personal use, and faced a series of trials. It ensures that he remains at liberty, and sets aside is criminal record.

With Minister Jose Ramon Cossio casting the deciding vote, the majority of Court Ministers ruled the article was discriminatory and therefore, in violation of the constitution.

The reasoning is that under Article 199, drug addicts in possession of a legally allowable amount of narcotics are held for trial, while those who are drug users, but deny being addicts, are freed without being is is because that article, they explained, allowed the drug addicts they are appropriated and put to trial if they were found with a quantity of drugs for consumption, though eventually they were left at liberty, “while those who were detained in the same conditions, but said they were not addicts, were freed without any record being made of the incident.

Article 199 of the Federal Criminal Code came into force on August 20, as part of a package of drug-smuggling reforms, and included, among other things, the decriminalization of drug possession in quantities considered being for personal consumption.

Under the reform, a prosecutor may not initiate a criminal action if the person holds less than 500 milligrams of cocaine, 500 grams of cannabis or marijuana, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine, 2 grams of opium or 50 milligrams of heroin, among other drugs.

At the same time, while the law stipulates that addiction treatment is the responsiblity of the Secretariat of Health, addicts were subject to prosecution in criminal courts.

The importance of the decision rendered by the Supreme Court lies in practice, as it endorses the reforms, while closing the possibility of any future prosecutions of addicts. In addition, the court ruling will probably end the prosecution of addicts who are being tried for offenses committed under the old law.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 September 2009 8:39 pm

    I believe that addiction is not a crime. It is a crime to make drugs, but not to take them. I mean that in a way that many people don’t choose to be a drug addict, they don’t have much choice once they’re there.


  1. There will be a morning after (pill) « The Mex Files

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: