HomeNewsAnalysisStudy Casts Doubt on Efficacy of Mexico's Drug Laws
ANALYSIS

Study Casts Doubt on Efficacy of Mexico's Drug Laws

MEXICO / 12 OCT 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

A new study of Mexico’s justice system suggests that the government disproportionately targets and punishes low-level dealers rather  than the high profile cartel figures and major smugglers, which may actually be a strategy to reduce violence. (Editor's note, the study's author responds below)

According to a study published on October 3 by Mexico’s Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), the vast majority of drug offenders in the country are small-time dealers and consumers of drugs, and the threat they present to society is disproportionate to the penalties they receive. Catalina Perez Correa, the report’s main author, points to Mexican federal law enforcement statistics, which show that in 2010, 74 percent of arrests were for drug-related crimes, and 41.9 percent were for small-scale drug dealing.

"These drug dealers are usually street corner vendors, and the time of their arrest had not committed other crimes. They did not have, at least proven, links to organized crime," said Perez Correa.

Despite this, many of these individuals received prison sentences for possession and distribution charges that are greater than those generally reserved for violent criminals. For instance, the study notes that the maximum sentence reserved for adults convicted on drug charges (25 years in prison) is 11 years more than those convicted of rape (14 years) and 10 years more than those convicted of armed robbery or illegal possession of automatic weapons (15 years).   

"We are using law enforcement resources to prosecute and punish consumers and small-scale sellers of marijuana and cocaine. This means fewer resources to investigate and punish crimes that are so hurting Mexican society, " said Perez Correa.

InSight Crime Analysis

Such strict drug laws are more than a human rights issue, they are directly contributing to a crisis in Mexico’s prison system. In 2011, the country’s 430 penal facilities were capable of housing 184,193 inmates.  Today the prison population numbers 224,246.  Overcrowding has contributed to deadly riots, and has allowed many criminal structures to manage their businesses directly from prison. According to a September report by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), some 60 percent of prisons in the country are out of state control and effectively governed by criminals. Reforming drug laws which penalize small-scale dealers, as well as reducing the emphasis on pre-trial detention in the country’s legal system, would likely prove an important step in improving prison conditions in Mexico.

But while Mexico’s drug laws should be streamlined to more proportionally reflect the violence they cause to society, Perez Correa’s premise that small-scale drug dealers are not a threat to the country’s internal security may not be accurate. Officials and analysts in Mexico have become increasingly concerned about the potential for smaller, localized drug gangs to become the main drivers of violence. As authorities focus law enforcement efforts on large cartels like the Zetas or Sinaloa Cartel, the theory goes, these larger groups fragment, breaking into splinter gangs who fight among themselves in local and regional turf wars. In a January report forecasting the future of citizen security in the country, Southern Pulse predicted that these smaller gangs would be the main cause of violence in Mexico by 2014, arguing: "at the hyper-local level, super-powered street gangs, armed with Twitter, You Tube, the weapon of fear, and an enviable armory, will man-handle local politicians and municipal police."

Even President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto has recognized the potential for this, and vowed that his administration will focus more on the violent activities of smaller gangs like La Linea and La Resistencia.  

There is already evidence of this occurring in Tijuana. In September, Bajo California Attorney General Rommel Moreno announced that shootouts between rival small-scale drug gangs had become the main form of drug-related violence in the city, accounting for some 80 percent of murders in 2011 and 2012. 

Catalina Perez Correa Responds:

To the editor:

I would like to refer to Geoffrey Ramsey’s article published the 13th of October by InSight Crime entitled “Study Casts Doubt on Efficacy of México’s Drug Laws” which comments a paper of my authorship on drug crimes and proportionality in Mexico: (Des)proporcionalidad y delitos contra la salud en México ((Dis) proportionality and drug crimes in México).

In his article, Mr. Ramsey states that “Perez Correa’s premise that small-scale drug dealers are not a threat to the country’s internal security may not be accurate. Officials and analysts in Mexico have become increasingly concerned about the potential for smaller, localized drug gangs to become the main drivers of violence.” A clarification should be made regarding this statement.

It is not a premise, but a conclusion, of my study that the Mexican state is mainly prosecuting petty dealers and/or consumers.  The difference between a premise and a conclusion is not marginal –especially in academic literature- so is important to clarify that my conclusions are not starting points but ending points of my research; reached by reflecting on the available data.

As can be seen in the following table, in 2010, possession and consumption represented 71% of investigations initiated by the public prosecutors for drug related crimes. That year, consumption represented 26% of investigations initiated for drug crimes. In 2011, possession and consumption represented 74% of investigations initiated for these crimes, 23% were exclusively for consumption. Most of these cases are non-violent cases, where no other crimes were involved. As my text, (Dis) proportionality and Drug crimes in Mexico, notes, in 80.7% of sentences passed for drug crimes in 2010, no other crimes were implicated. It is not therefore possible to affirm, as Mr. Ramsey does, that these are cases of “smaller, localized drug gangs”. The data, in any case, suggests otherwise. It suggests that the state is prosecuting many consumers, even when legal reforms have taken place to decriminalize use. 

chart

One can agree with Mr. Ramsey’s contention that small-scale violent drug gangs should be a priority of the state. But this should be so, not because of their petty dealings of illegal substances but because violent crimes are socially harmful and reprehensible. Their persecution should be prioritized over non-violent crimes, such as the drug offenses currently prosecuted by the state. Today, however, the evidence points to the conclusion the Mexican state is focusing resources on prosecuting and punishing petty non-violent drug criminals or consumers instead of investigating homicides, kidnaps, rapes or other crimes more significant to society, whether perpetrated by small or large gangs. More importantly, there is no evidence to posit that this apparent persecution of consumers and non-violent petty dealers is a strategy consciously devised to curtail violence by authorities.

Catalina Perez Correa

Professor/Researcher, Centre for Teaching and Research in Economics (CIDE)

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 8 JUL 2021

A US investigation has shed light on the alleged participation of Guatemalan soldiers in a cocaine smuggling network linked to…

COCAINE / 8 NOV 2021

Cocaine, synthetic drugs, weapons, migrants, gasoline - this range of criminal economies has seen violence escalate in Mexico's northern state…

MEXICO / 16 JUL 2022

Rafael Caro Quintero, Mexican drug lord and erstwhile head of the defunct Guadalajara Cartel, has been apprehended by Mexican authorities.

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…