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Whoa! Call the fire department! Somebody lit the mayor’s hair on fire Friday.

Granted, it was a really small fire (I can say that, by the way, because I’m going bald too).

The fire started after news broke Friday that the Mexican Senate had passed a bill that would, according to whom you listen, either A) legalize drugs in Mexico or B) simply clarify an already pretty forgiving law about the personal possession of illicit mind-altering drugs. When that news reached Mayor Jerry Sanders, we got our first glimpse of a little hysteria from the Mayor’s Office.

What’s clear is this: In Mexico, right now – not considering the new legislation – it’s legal to carry a small amount of drugs for personal possession as long as you say you are an addict. The new legislation changes that and, Mexican lawmakers claim, defines the small quantities of drugs affected and what won’t be punished.

Sanders interpreted that as decriminalization of drugs – and that’s probably the right word, though it also upped the “criminalization” of cartels and drug running. Others labeled it legalization but it doesn’t do anything to actually legalize the sale of or distribution of narcotics.

In a press release, the mayor called the Mexican move a “hostile action by a longtime ally of our country.”

He called the legislation “appallingly stupid.”

And there was this final piece of reasoning:

“Because the possession of small quantities of drugs would be legal, it is my fear that Americans will travel to Mexico and illegally purchase – and perhaps transport – these dangerous drugs across the border.”

There’s nothing to indicate that the purchase of drugs in Mexico will be any easier than it already is with the legislation – or that it will be any easier than it already is in, say, Pacific Beach.

And it’s still illegal to transport illegal narcotics and unprescribed controlled substances into the United States.

While the new Mexican law, if signed by President Vicente Fox, may be “appallingly stupid,” there has to be a better argument than that people might go to Mexico to get high and bring drugs back to the United States.

This is like saying that if Tijuana legalized prostitution, people might go down there to pay for sex. Just in case you haven’t been told – and there’s never a press conference to remind you – Tijuana’s prohibition of prostitution isn’t really working either.

Let’s not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that people from this country aren’t already using Tijuana to fill their pockets and hearts with the most unhealthy offerings on the planet. Sailors, college students, high-school kids, regular ol’ yuppies and even elderly pill-poppers have been going down to Tijuana for decades to get their particular fixes.

That’s not OK. People drive through the border drunk every night. That, combined with the rise of AIDS cases in Tijuana, bloody drug trafficking, and the frequent flow of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into our country, there’s plenty of reason for hysteria about the public health crisis at the border.

The mayor’s hysteria about the Mexican legislation – and it’s not just the mayor, he was flanked by the district attorney and chief of police – presupposes that with the law’s passage, something major will happen soon.

The U.S. State Department, no friend of people pushing to legalize drugs, has held its tongue about the legislation until a proper analysis can be done. For now, there may be reason to believe the Mexican government that the new law will focus drug-enforcement efforts, not hinder them.

Rather than claim that with this legislation, Mexico has somehow declared war on this country (is that what the mayor meant with his “hostile act” comment?) it may be best for us to focus on problems we know exist now. San Diego has a litany of options in this area. We could: increase drunk-driving crackdowns on northbound routes into San Diego; further bolster inspection efforts at the border; get hysterical about the alarming statistics about the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Tijuana; push for construction of a sewage infrastructure in Tijuana that will keep that city’s feces and chemical waste from flowing onto U.S. beaches.

And, about drugs, I don’t know. I admit it. I know there are people in the police and sheriff’s offices – and the district attorney – who spend their lives trying to free people from the addiction and pain of drugs. I applaud them.

But Sanders and others should not have reacted so soon and emotionally to a potential change to Mexican law, which may do little if anything to exasperate an already upsetting problem.

It makes him seem like he’s not aware of those current problems and only worried that this great place will be invaded with addicts. He’s the former police chief so he undoubtedly knows that’s already happened.

Scott Lewis oversees voiceofsandiego.org’s commentary section. Please contact him directly at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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