By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 18 minutes ago


MEXICO CITY - The United States urged Mexico Wednesday to rethink a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, and the Mexican government appeared to be stepping back from the measure.
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Mexico's top police official said Tuesday that the bill would have to be "analyzed" and "considered" because Congress had strayed from the intent of an original proposal by President Vicente Fox. A Fox spokesman had said earlier in the day that the president would sign the measure.
Weighing in, the U.S. government Wednesday expressed a rare public objection to an internal Mexican political development, saying anyone caught with illegal drugs in Mexico should be prosecuted or given mandatory drug treatment.
"U.S. officials ... urged Mexican representatives to review the legislation urgently, to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico, and to prevent drug tourism," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryan said.
There are concerns the measure approved Friday by Mexico's Congress could increase drug use by border visitors and U.S. students who flock to Mexico on vacation.
Bryan said the U.S. government wants Mexico "to ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs."
Mexico's top police official, Eduardo Medina Mora, said Tuesday that the proposal would be "analyzed" and "considered" because legislators had moved from Fox's intended purpose by inserting a controversial table laying out maximum amounts of drugs for "personal use," including cocaine, heroin, marijuana and ecstasy.
He noted that Mexican cities can - and some already do - impose fines and overnight detentions in jail for those caught with small quantities of drugs in public, and said the government may encourage more cities to pass such laws.
Even if the bill became law, federal immigration authorities could require foreigners caught for public drug use or possession to leave the country, though it would not formally deport them or ban them from returning.
Some detainees could be referred to treatment programs, but he acknowledged those programs are neither mandatory nor involve detention.
He said that "Mexico is not, has not been and will not become a refuge for those who wish to come to our country to use drugs indiscriminately."
Current Mexican law allows judges to drop charges if suspects can prove they are addicts and the quantity they were caught with was small enough to be considered "for personal use," or if they are first-time offenders.
The new bill makes the decriminalization automatic, allows "consumers" as well as addicts to have drugs and delineates the specific allowable quantities, which do not appear in the current law.
On Friday, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders called himself "appalled" by the bill and said: "I certainly think we are going to see more drugs available in the United States" as a result.
Under the law, consumers could legally possess up to 25 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of marijuana (about one-fifth of an ounce, or about four joints), or 0.5 grams of cocaine - the equivalent of about four "lines," or half the standard street-sale quantity.
The bill stiffens penalties for trafficking for drug sales, and gives local police more power to go after small-scale drug dealing