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Will Mexican Law Impact Business

MEXICO’S DECRIMINALIZATION of the possession of small amounts of narcotics has generated concerns among some in the business community who have raised questions about the impact that the change could have on U.S. companies with operations in the country.

The new law, enacted last year, allows the possession of amounts of drugs intended for personal use, including 5 grams of marijuana—the equivalent of a few joints; a half a gram of cocaine, which equals about two or three lines; as well as 50 milligrams of heroin and 40 milligrams of methamphetamine. Users caught with this amount or less will no longer face prison time. Instead, they will be directed to a drug rehab clinic. About the same time that this change became law, Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to punish an adult for private marijuana use as long as no third party is harmed.

The Security Executive Council, a security research and services organization, recently conducted an informal “quick poll” on its Web site, asking security practitioners which aspects of their security programs may be affected by the recent change in drug laws in Central and South America. Nearly 60 percent of the 45 respondents said they thought preemployment and drug screening policies would be affected by the change. Nearly half said safety procedures could be affected, and approximately 40 percent of respondents were concerned about travel policies. The poll was targeted through e-mails and newsletters to the group’s members, many of whom are at the director level, and to other security organizations.

“With either people working [in] or traveling to Mexico, or having facilities in Mexico, it could definitely be an issue,” says Kathleen Kotwica, the council’s executive vice president and chief knowledge strategist. “Some of our members have said they have already had talks with HR and legal about this,” she adds.

Typically, the discovery of drugs in the workplace is considered gross misconduct by companies no matter where they are located, and it often leads to dismissal regardless of what statute says in any jurisdiction, says Iain Donald, vice president and national director of global risk analysis for Control Risks.

But Mexico’s laws tend to favor employees, so at the very least, companies should make sure that they communicate the continuing prohibition on use and possession in the workplace, says David Robillard, Kroll’s deputy regional managing director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Robillard advises that security and human resources professionals meet with a Mexican labor lawyer to update the international communications of the organization. “Get ahead of the curve in terms of communicating to employees,” he says, “because I’m certain that confusion will be created and the consequences could be dire.”

Mexican labor law is “extremely favorable” to the employee, Robillard notes, and it is often difficult to dismiss an employee. “I don’t think you can take a policy from the United States and 100 percent cut and paste it and put it here. You need to make sure that it’s framed properly to clearly protect the company and to ensure that... any of that wiggle room, is eliminated,” he adds.

The Security Executive Council noted in its analysis that some respondents to their poll question said zero tolerance for drugs in the workplace was still their focus, and many were planning to reemphasize the point to employees. Still others were working with HR to develop new policies and were considering a shift from prosecution or termination to counseling.