After years of deadlock in the Mexican government, legalization efforts for the country appear to be gaining steam. A draft of a legalization bill was recently found circulating among Mexican senators, and expectations are high for its success.
Legalization in Mexico could have far-reaching effects in the U.S. The increasing number of states legalizing cannabis has forced Mexican cartels to completely change the way they do business. The amount of illegal cannabis going across the border from states like California into Mexico has increased in recent years, an apparent reversal of the traditional flow which brought illegal marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. In August customs agents reportedly confiscated hundreds of cannabis oil cartridges that allegedly came from the states.
Legalizing cannabis in Mexico could potentially remove much of the incentive to traffic the drug into the U.S.
Pot’s Current Status in Mexico
Mexico outlawed cannabis in 1920 as part of the global shift to demonize hemp.
In 2018 Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to ban cannabis use and ordered legislators to develop a legal framework for the distribution, sale and regulation of the drug. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on a policy, however, and the given deadline has been pushed back on numerous occasions.
In June, after years of delays and in light of Congress’ unwillingness to find a path forward, Mexico’s Supreme Court decided to take matters into its own hands and voted to strike down some of the laws that criminalize recreational cannabis use in the country. The court ruled that adults could apply for permits to grow and consume cannabis for personal use.
The ruling doesn’t leave Congress off the hook, though. Lawmakers are still required to approve some kind of cannabis regulation legislation. In the three years that have passed since Mexico’s Supreme Court order, legislators have been unable to agree on a plan. The bill has been passed back and forth between chambers with multiple revisions made in that time with no outwardly visible progress.
But advocates hope this will finally be the year that Congress acts. Last month Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal Ávila tweeted that cannabis legalization will be a priority this session. In October Monreal said he believed that the bill has a good chance of passing, although it will require further revisions.
The draft bill that’s currently being circulated among lawmakers is fairly similar to a version that was passed by the Senate last year but was ultimately left in limbo when lawmakers pointed out several flaws that would need revision. It would allow adults 18 and older to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of cannabis. The bill would also allow adults to grow up to six plants for personal use. If passed, the bill would require the formation of the Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, which would operate under the control of the Ministry of Health. The agency would be responsible for issuing licenses, regulating cannabis companies and initiating public education campaigns. Retail licenses would have to be issued within 18 months of the bill being signed into law.
The current draft of the law includes social equity provisions that would ensure at least 40 percent of cultivation licenses go to people living in communities that were most negatively impacted by cannabis’ prohibition.
Monreal says he expects lawmakers to vote on the bill by Dec. 15.
If Mexico does legalize cannabis, black market trade of the drug might slow to a trickle. The cartels would likely continue to operate—for the last decade, they’ve been ramping up methamphetamine and heroin production to offset losses to legal cannabis—but their bottom line would still be dealt a serious blow as their revenue opportunities narrow.
Some might decide to go legit, like the Sinaloa cartel—one of the most violent criminal organizations in the world—purportedly has decided to do. According to The Daily Beast, representatives of the cartel spoke to reporters and said the organization is prepared to abandon its criminal practices and become legitimate cannabis entrepreneurs the moment Mexico legalizes the drug for adult use. Cartel farmers reportedly told reporters that they are already upgrading their farms to incorporate more sophisticated growing methods and breeding techniques.
At the very least, cartels will no longer have the same incentive to move illegal marijuana across the border into the U.S. It will be much more lucrative to sell cannabis legally in Mexico.
Mexico isn’t the only country of note to consider legalizing pot. The new German government recently announced that it plans on legalizing cannabis for adult use and regulating its production and sale. If it can beat its neighbor Luxembourg—a country also currently proposing legalization—it will become the first country in Europe to fully legalize the possession and sale of the drug.
This is reassuring to hear, and advocates can be forgiven for excitedly declaring that cannabis legalization is sweeping the globe. But a single glance at a map of the world’s cannabis laws will put that sentiment to bed. Marijuana remains illegal for the vast majority of the world and will continue to be so for a great many years to come. A century ago—for reasons that continue to elude historians—the entire planet turned its back on cannabis. It’s taken some time to turn around deeply embedded prejudices against the drug and expecting it to become fully accepted overnight is unrealistic.
It took us a while to get into this mess, and it will take a while to get back out.