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Mexico's Fox backs down on drug law

Written by: Staff

MEXICO CITY, May 4 (Reuters) In a surprise reversal, Mexican President Vicente Fox will not sign a widely criticised reform to decriminalise the possession of small quantities of marijuana, cocaine and heroin, his office said.

The president's office yesterday said the law, which also toughened sentences for dealing and holding larger amounts of the intoxicants, would be sent back to Congress for revision.

''In our country the possession of drugs and their consumption are, and will continue to be, crimes,'' the office said in a statement.

Fox's decision was unexpected, given that the legislation was initially designed by his office and introduced by his party. This week, his spokesman praised the law and insisted the president would quickly sign it, despite rumblings from a shocked Washington.

Mexico argued that the measure set out clearer rules to deal with drug crime, toughened sentences and closed loop-holes. Under present law courts decide on a case-by-case basis whether to act against people who hold drugs.

But the bill allowed for the possession of up to 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 25 milligrams of heroin and 500 milligrams of cocaine.

It also decriminalised the possession of limited quantities of other drugs, including LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, amphetamines and peyote -- a psychotropic cactus found in the Mexican deserts.

Critics, including politicians on both sides of the border, said relaxing the rules so much would attract drug users to Mexico from around the world and complicate its drug war.

Congress passed the legislation last week, dismaying Washington, which counts on its southern neighbor's support in a war against gangs that move massive quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines through Mexico to US consumers.

Hundreds of people, including many police officers, have been killed in Mexico in the past year as drug cartels have battled for control of lucrative smuggling routes.

The violence has raged mostly in northern Mexico, but in recent months has spread south to Pacific coast resorts like Acapulco.

Beleaguered police in the crime-racked Mexican border region warned that the legalization law would make its already chaotic cities rowdier and more unruly. And authorities tourist towns feared the reforms would attract a flood of hard-partying US thrill seekers.

Reuters KD GC0913

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