MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's Congress approved a bill Friday decriminalizing possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use -- including cocaine and even heroin -- raising potential questions about joint U.S.-Mexican anti-narcotics operations.
The only step remaining was the signature of President Vicente Fox, whose office indicated he would sign the bill, which Mexican officials hope will allow police to focus on large-scale trafficking operations rather than minor busts.
"This law gives police and prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes that do so much damage to our youth and children," said Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar.
If Fox signs the measure, it could strain the two countries' cooperation in anti-drug efforts -- and increase the vast numbers of vacationing students who visit Mexico.
Oscar Aguilar, a Mexico City political analyst who is not related to the president's spokesman, said Fox appeared almost certain to sign the law, and that he had apparently been betting that it would not draw much notice.
U.S. officials scrambled to come up with a response.
"The United States and Mexico have a strong history of counternarcotics cooperation, and the Fox administration has taken a firm stand against illegal drug cultivation, trafficking and abuse," said Janelle Hironimus, a State Department spokeswoman.