Cannabis Legalization in Mexico: A Full Explainer

While the eyes of the cannabis world have been fixed on Canada and its recent legalization, it could be easy to overlook that our southern neighbor might just be on the cusp of fully legalizing marijuana too. In the last year, Mexico has taken some huge steps forward, and with a legalization friendly new president taking the helm, the near future looks incredibly promising for legal weed in the country.

What Happened in the Last Year?

In 2017, medical marijuana was passed into law in Mexico, but it wasn’t until October 30 this year that Cofepris, Mexico’s regulatory agency, released its medical marijuana regulatory guidelines detailing exactly what was legal.

Disappointingly for Mexico’s cannabis activists, the new regulations are incredibly strict. Only imported cannabis products that contain less than 1 percent THC are allowed, and cultivation is restricted solely to scientific research.

In a country were pharmaceutical medicines can be prohibitively expensive for many, the need for people to be able to inexpensively grow their own medicine has been a central tenant of Mexico’s medical marijuana movement. It’s therefore understandable that these new regulations were seen as a meager step forward. Coincidentally, however, the conclusion of a six-year legal battle within Mexico’s highest court would overshadow all of this.

Just 24 hours after Cofepris released its medical marijuana laws, the Mexican Supreme Court made its fourth and fifth rulings on the matter of whether cannabis prohibition is unconstitutional. Unlike in America, if the Mexican Supreme Court makes five identical decisions on the same issue, it becomes de-facto law. So, on October 31, 2018, following the Supreme Courts’ final ruling, the prohibition of cannabis in Mexico was found to be unconstitutional.

What’s Happing Now?

Is cannabis now legal in Mexico? Not yet. While the Supreme Court’s ruling was a landmark event for the country, it didn’t make weed legal overnight. The ball has now passed to the Mexican government to make the ending of cannabis prohibition a reality. In fact, Congress has just 90 days to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In the midst of all this, 2018 has also been a presidential election year for Mexico. In July, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is known in Mexico, won the presidency largely on a promise to end the drug war that has ravaged the country for decades. His “Morena” party, a left-leaning political party that he started in the 2000s, took control of both the Senate and Congress during Mexico’s recent July 1 election, and promisingly, the party has made it clear that they support the legalization of cannabis.

Right now, Senator Olga Sanchez, the soon-to-be Interior Minister to AMLO in the new Mexican government, has proposed a bill to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. If passed, it would allow for up to 20 plants to be cultivated at home for personal use, and also include regulation for creating a market where Mexican businesses could sell cannabis products.

What’s likely to happen in the future?

AMLO was sworn in as the new President of Mexico very recently, on December 1, 2018. While the timing could not be better, the reality is that there remains a long way to go before weed is legal in the country. Sanchez’s bill will likely go back and forth through Congress, and there are number of contentious issues that need to be resolved.

Allowing for public consumption is one of those issues. Activists in Mexico have long argued for allowing it, primarily as a way to protect themselves from a notoriously unprofessional police force that will continue to use it as a tool for extortion if it isn’t allowed. However, Mexico remains a very religious country, and the powerful Catholic Church will likely oppose this.

Cartels are also a major problem for Mexico that reaches far beyond cannabis. The extent to which organized crime has entrenched itself within Mexican society is staggering. Therefore, it’s understandable that legalizing weed without legitimizing the gangsters who have profited the most from the bloodshed, will be a very difficult task. In fact, completely untwining the two may now be impossible.

Ultimately, the larger issues at play mean that legal weed is far from a done deal in Mexico. We will have to wait and see what form the new laws and regulations materialize in. At the same time, don’t be surprised that in 2019, Mexico joins Canada and Uruguay in completely legalizing cannabis.

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