By MARK STEVENSON
Associated Press Writer
MEXICO CITY- Mexico changed its constitution on Monday to let state and local police pursue drug traffickers, removing a stumbling block in anti-drug efforts that had been the exclusive realm of federal officers.
Constitutional Article 73, aimed mainly at pursuing local drug distributors, was hailed as a major step against the drug trade.
"We are multiplying our power in an extraordinary way," Eduardo Medina Mora, secretary of public safety, told reporters. "Local authorities ... will be able to pursue drug distributors and dealers. They will be able to conduct searches without a federal warrant."
The scope of the changes will be determined by legislation, some of which is expected to be approved in December. Lawmakers could open the way for other federal crimes, such as weapons possession, to be prosecuted by local authorities.
"The people who are on the ground in the community where the crimes are currently being committed will have the responsibility to fight it," Medina Mora said. "This is going to fundamentally change the equation regarding this problem."
He said that while federal police number only about 20,000, there are 380,000 state and local police in Mexico.
"Now that states have powers to deal with this. We will have a much more resolute and effective combat against this issue," said Medina, who noted that local drug dealing has caused much of the violence between gangs.
"Part of what is happening in the country, the violence among drug cartels ... is related to structural changes (in the cartels) that are directly related to this concept of a growing domestic drug market," Medina Mora said.
He said there have been steady increases in the use of cocaine and methamphetamines in Mexico.
The constitutional reform _ published Monday after winning approval from Congress and a majority of state legislatures _ is part of a package of planned measures.
Those include using millions of dollars in seized drug money to fund rewards for the capture of traffickers, the blocking of cell phone calls from inside prisons and the registration of bulletproof cars frequently used by drug traffickers.
Authorities have seized about US$14 million (euro12 million) in suspected drug funds at airports and seaports since September.
Mora said that on Tuesday, authorities will sign agreements with local telephone companies to attach messages that identify any public phone calls originating from a prison.
That step is intended to combat a growing extortion trade in which prisoners make phone calls threatening to have associates kidnap or harm people unless they are paid off.
The cell phone block is intended to fight that kind of crime and to cut off communication from drug lords who continue to run their gangs from behind prison walls.