Washington, D.C.—In Mexico, the drug offenders that are being caught are mainly small-scale consumers and/or sellers, according to a study published by the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de investigación y docencia en económicas, CIDE) and the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD)—a group that studies drug policy in eight Latin American countries.
According to the study, these are primarily non-violent offenders who have not committed other crimes.
In 2010, the crimes of possession and consumption accounted for 78.9 percent of all drug-related offenses filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público). And, of all the judgments (convictions or acquittals) issued at the federal level for drug-related crimes in 2010, 18,343—80.7 percent—were for a single crime, meaning that no other crime was committed apart from the drug offense for which the person was sentenced.
"We are using the resources of law enforcement to prosecute and punish marijuana and cocaine consumers and small-scale vendors. This means fewer resources to investigate and punish the violent crimes that have hurt Mexico so much,” said Catalina Perez Correa, author of the study produced for the CIDE and the CEDD, entitled (Dis) proportionality and Drug crimes in Mexico.
Drawing on federal data, the study shows that the bulk of federal resources in law enforcement are dedicated to the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of minor drug-related cases in which offenders are young consumers or sellers of small amounts of cocaine or marijuana. In 2010, for example, 74 percent of the detentions reported on by the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), were for drug-related offenses. Of the total number of detentions for that year, 41.9 percent were for small-scale selling.
“These small-scale vendors are usually street corner dealers, and at the time of their arrest they did not commit other crimes. They did not have, or could not be proven to have had, ties to organized crime,” said Perez Correa.
“This report underscores how skewed Mexico’s drug enforcement strategy has become, and why scarce resources should be directed towards reducing violence rather than persecuting drug consumers and small-time dealers,” said John Walsh, WOLA’s drug policy expert.
The study also finds that in Mexico sentences for drug crimes are disproportionately higher than sentences of other crimes. The maximum prison sentence for drug-related crimes of production, supply, trafficking, and transportation—crimes that may occur without violence—is more than the maximum sentence established for more serious crimes, including homicide, child rape, rape among adults, and violent robbery. The maximum sentence established for rape among adults is 11 years less than the maximum sentences established for drug offenses. The sentence for violent robbery is given a maximum of 15 years, 10 years less than for drug crimes. The same occurs with the crime of carrying weapons that only the military is allowed to use.
“It is unreasonable for the sale or possession of drugs to be more penalized than the rape of a minor,” said Perez Correa. “Our policy needs to be revised. We must return to the principle of proportionality between crime and punishment, and between one crime and another. Drug policy should distinguish between substances and between the different levels in the drug trafficking chain.”
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