MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Owning marijuana, cocaine and even heroin will no longer be a crime in Mexico if the drugs are carried in small amounts for personal use, under legislation passed by the Congress.
Police will not penalize people for possessing up to 5 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 25 milligrams of heroin or 500 milligrams of cocaine, under a bill passed by senators late on Thursday and earlier approved by the lower house.
People caught with larger quantities of drugs will be treated as narcotics dealers and face increased jail terms under the plan.
The government says the measure allows police to focus on major drug dealers, and President Fox is expected to sign it into law.
"This law provides more judicial tools for authorities to fight crime," presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said on Friday.
Hundreds of people including several police officers have been killed in the past year as drug cartels battle authorities and compete with each other for control of lucrative cocaine, marijuana and heroin smuggling routes from Mexico into the United States.
The violence has raged mostly in northern Mexico but in recent months has spread south to cities like vacation resort Acapulco.
Under current law, it is up to local judges and police to decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be prosecuted for possessing small quantities of drugs, a source at the Senate's health commission told Reuters.
"The object of this law is to not put consumers in jail, but rather those who sell and poison," said Sen. Jorge Zermeno of the ruling National Action Party.
Fifty-three senators voted for the bill with 26 votes against it.
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