It would not have made a huge difference in the most unfortunate aspects of the war on drugs. But it would have been a nice gesture.
If Mexican president Vicente Fox had decided to sign a bill legalizing personal possession of small amounts of drugs now prohibited, while keeping sales and trafficking illegal, the violence and crime associated with the drug trade under prohibition would have remained in place.
But resources directed at putting low-level users in jail could have been directed elsewhere. And the move could have sparked a serious conversation about the wisdom of zero-tolerance prohibition as an approach to the fact that certain drugs have harmful effects.
It seems apparent that it was pressure from the U.S. government that in part caused Fox to reverse his position. That is an unfortunate use of American power.
It should be obvious — from the continued availability of illicit drugs and the power and money accumulated by the most violence-prone traffickers — that strict prohibition has not stopped drug use or drug trafficking. It is long past time to consider alternatives, from policies aimed narrowly at reducing the harm caused by drugs to outright legalization.
Fox missed a chance to jump-start this vital discussion.