Navigating Mexico: The Real Dope about Drugs in Mexico

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Spring break destination. Party beach. Dealers everywhere at clubs. Let the good times roll.

The drugs flow freely in Mexico, and a tourist might think simple possession has been depenalized.

Nothing is further from the truth.

While Mexico has decriminalized certain aspects of marijuana possession for personal use, the actual regulations, the procedural law, have not been promulgated, so to police, marijuana is still technically illegal.

But what about other drugs, some which are considered recreational and can be easily purchased in any Mexican tourist city?

Mexican authorities differentiate between possession and intention to supply and/or manufacture drugs depending on how much of the drug you have on your person.

So just in case you are hellbent on using drugs in Mexico (which we do not advise doing), here is a list of common drugs and the maximum amount that constitutes possession according to Article 479 of Mexico’s General Health Law: 2 grams of opioids, 50 milligrams of morphine or heroin, 5 grams of cannabis, 500 milligrams of cocaine, .015 milligrams of LSD, and 40 milligrams of MDA, MDMA or methamphetamine in crystal form. If these last drugs are in tablet or capsule form, the total weight must not exceed 200 milligrams.

So in everyday language, if the drugs on your person weigh more than the limits mentioned above, you can be charged with possession.

Under that scenario, you could face up to seven and a half years in a federal prison and a fine of 150 days of your salary as per Article 195 of the Federal Penal Code.

That answers the legal question.

However the reality is quite different and foreigners often make comments — founded or otherwise — claiming that they have been victims of police extortion.

As a tourist and foreign visitor, you are a fool to have drugs, of any amount, on your person in a public place in Mexico. You are at fault.

Police have been known to occasionally “shake down” foreigners for cash because there is an unwritten agreement with the federal prosecutor’s office to not charge tourists for first-time simple possession.

A Mexican, however, will be charged.

The police clearly do not have free rein to ask foreigners for money, but they know that the arrest of a tourist for possession will usually not lead to a formal charge since foreigners are seen as a pain to accommodate and tend to whine incessantly during the pre-trail detention.

Charges will likely never be brought.

If you were foolish enough to be caught with drugs in Mexico, you have a choice: Lose up to 48 hours of your vacation in a holding cell or illegally pay off the police so you will never be brought before the federal district attorney for charges. The choice is yours.

Tourists are not typically targeted. But police could be looking for a situation like drugs where the offender is clearly at a disadvantage: little to no Spanish, an impaired brain, typically a middle-of-the-night interaction on a dark street with no cameras and ignorance of Mexican law. The combination squarely puts the tourist at a disadvantage and the police in the driver’s seat.

Know that, under Mexican law, police cannot randomly search you without probable cause, so the entire arrest can often be dismissed.

But that would take too much ink to explain here.

If you are detained, you have the right to a free public defender, and if your body has signs of physical violence, you will be given a medical checkup immediately.

Otherwise, your attorney will see you during regular business hours.

Pulse News Mexico has in the past addressed your legal rights around interacting with police in Mexico if you actually are arrested, and what happens between being arrested and being formally charged in those critical 48 hours.

The key takeaway from all the above is that possession of even a minimal amount of drugs is illegal in Mexico.

So even if you think that drugs flow freely in Mexico, there are serious penalties if you get caught.

Simply put: Do not confuse the ease with which drugs can be purchased in Mexico with their legality.

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