What's Going on With Mexico's Cannabis Legalization?

On October 23rd, The Supreme Court of Mexico was supposed to vote on a bill to legalize cannabis, except the bill was delayed. What's going on?

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Cannabis has made tremendous strides over the past few years in regard to legalization. In the U.S., 11 states have legalized the plant for recreational use, and 33 have legalized cannabis for medicinal use.

Canada federally legalized the plant last year, and has since expanded the legal form factors of cannabis to include edibles, extracts and concentrates. Here in Australia, our medical cannabis prescriptions have been skyrocketing, and the ACT just passed a bill to legalize recreational possession.

And most recently, on October 17th—the same day that Canada legalized edibles—a handful of Mexican senators unveiled draft legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana.

Mexico's Marijuana Moment

Cannabis had been illegal in Mexico since the 1920s, a status quo that would remain in place for nearly 90 years, until Mexico decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis in 2009.

The country then legalized medicinal marijuana in 2017, and just last year Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last year that a ban on recreational use and possession of cannabis was, in fact, unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court actually issued five rulings decrying the unconstitutional nature of cannabis prohibition, which they argued went against "the right to the free development of the personality," as the country's constitution states.

The proposed cannabis bill had several stipulations, most of which were unsurprising. It stated that cannabis couldn't be consumed in public, packaging regulations would be strict, and the industry would be overseen by a central agency called the Cannabis Institute.

There were, however, some more unique elements to Mexico's cannabis bill, such as a relatively low age restriction, allowing 18-year-olds to possess and consume cannabis. In the U.S. and Canada, the age required to purchase cannabis sits at 21, as does the drinking age.

On top of this, some cannabis form factors such as edibles and beverages will only be accessible to medicinal patients. This is a departure from the U.S. and most recently Canada, who legalized an extended array of cannabis form factors, which are set to bring in a new wave of cannabis consumers.

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The bill also allows adults to cultivate up to four plants and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers, while prioritizing low-income and indigenous people when it comes to licensing.

According to the leader of the Morena Party in the Mexican Senate, Senator Ricardo Monreal, there would be a swift victory for the bill, with the senator stating that "the end of the prohibitionist policy is good for the country."

And it seems the end of prohibitionist policy is nigh for Mexico, as the Morena Party holds majorities in both chambers of Congress. Even the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, promised to sign the bill into law if it passes the legislative process.

The bill was supposed to be held to a vote on the 23rd of October, however according to Monreal, the bill "won't be voted on this week, as was planned."

"It was the intention to approve it on Tuesday," Monreal continued, "but that's not going to happen." The Senate asked for the extension to the Supreme Court's deadline to legalize cannabis, however, the Supreme Court has stated that it will declare unconstitutionality if the Senate doesn't approve a law before November.

At least eight members of the Supreme Court are needed to vote favorably. Six already declared to be in favor, but one declared to be against, and there's uncertainty about the remaining three votes.

However, Mexico isn't just focused on cannabis. Instead the country is considering decriminalizing the entire array of illegal drugs.

Ending the Drug War

On the topic of prohibition, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated that the black market needs to be eliminated, and that prohibition hasn't done much to achieve that.

"In the matter of narcotic drugs, the prohibitionist strategy is already unsustainable, not only because of the violence generated by its poor results in terms of public health," Obrador stated.

Under the decriminalization method, drugs would be decriminalized, meaning that citizens would no longer be arrested for possession, but instead may be forced to attend medical treatments including detoxification programs and classes on addiction.

"The only real possibility of reducing the levels of drug consumption is to lift the ban on those that are currently illegal," Obrador's statement mentioned, "and redirect the resources currently destined to combat their transfer and apply them in programs— massive, but personalized—of reinsertion and detoxification."

The renewed approach to drug law enforcement is echoed by the former President of Mexico, Vincente Fox, who pointed to countries and states that had legalized cannabis, who each had seen positive results.

"Watching that example, we see that in a natural way, the old illegal underground activities start to disappear by themselves, because now they don't have a market. The market is taken by the new situation — the new products, the new corporations being provided," Fox said.

"If you go to Washington state or Seattle, you see today that many of the old places that we used to look that were underground providing product to consumers, now they have formed part of the new industry that is legal. Now, instead of committing crimes by distributing drugs, now they do it as a businessman."

Fox also touched upon an important point, which is that countries who seek to legalize drugs must ensure they don't penalize drug dealers based on their past illegalities, but instead encourage them to enter the legal market.

This is something that Canada, for example, has struggled with, who had such high standards for cannabis producers that many illegal vendors simply couldn't keep up – and instead, continued doing business in Canada's thriving black market.

A Green Future

In the coming weeks, we will see the extent to which Mexico legalizes cannabis, and whether it will go ahead with the decriminalization of all drugs.

This would be a momentous move for the country—and broadly speaking, the rest of the world—who can watch from afar as Mexico takes a radical approach to eliminate their black market.

With countries like Canada, who have legalized cannabis and still have a thriving black market, it's clear that legalization isn't an immediate solution.

Countries must be smart about precisely how they approach cannabis legalization, as with the legalization of any drug, and Mexico certainly seems to be taking the right tact.

So keep your eyes peeled, as the grass may soon be greener in Mexico.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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