What Will a Legal Cannabis Market Mean for Mexico?

    If all goes according to plan, you’ll soon be able to light a joint on a park bench in Mexico City.

    On March 10, Mexico’s lower house approved a long-awaited bill to legalize marijuana for adult use. The decision is expected to pass through the Senate and receive the signature of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador—if it does, it would make the country the biggest cannabis market on the planet.

    Mexico would become only the third nation to legalize weed for personal use, following Canada and Uruguay. Because of a deadline imposed by Mexico’s Supreme Court, the Senate must vote on the bill—and Obrador must decide whether to sign it—before the end of April 2021.

    But after an arduous, years-long bureaucratic process, lawmakers are still hashing out the specifics. As it stands now, the bill includes provisions for adults to smoke and home-grow plants with a permit (up to 28 grams and six plants per individual), as well as for licensed farmers to cultivate and sell in greater quantities. You’ll be allowed to consume cannabis in public spaces as well.

    “Legalization is how we start to chip away at the war on drugs.”

    “Mexico’s move to legalize marijuana is significant in setting the stage for legalization elsewhere, including the US,” Maritza Perez, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s* Office of National Affairs, told Filter. “Legalization is how we start to chip away at the War on Drugs.”

    But this would hardly be the end of stigma against cannabis, especially in a nation where police corruption is a major issue and where most citizens have been against legalization efforts, according to polls from the past few years.

    It’s been 50 years since President Richard Nixon launched his drug war in the 1970s, and those actions left deep political and economic wounds across the world. Mexico’s new legislation will likely fall short in helping those most been affected by prohibition in the last couple decades. There’s also increasing fear that bigger, more monied companies and corporations will push others out (a concern shared at the state level in the US). And it’s not exactly clear which regulatory body will take the lead.

    “The law has considerable flaws, including continued criminalization and lack of forethought about agencies responsible for its implementation,” said Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University.

    Legalizing marijuana in Mexico won’t be a cure-all. It won’t substantially decrease violence related to the illicit drug market, nor will it immediately alter the discourse around other currently criminalized drugs. “Dialogues might change in the longer term,” Bryce Pardo, an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation who specializes in cannabis regulation, told Filter. “In the short term, I think this is very symbolic.”

    Still, legalization in Mexico could have important implications for international trade. Cannabis could be included in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)—which replaced the Northern American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during the Trump administration. “[Will] we see trade of commercial cannabis across the hemisphere?” Pardo asked. “Will it be treated like alcohol?”

    It might not be so far-fetched to guess that in five or 10 years, Mexico could be harvesting a significant amount of cannabis—it’s easy and cheap to grow in the country—and then exporting it to its North American neighbors. There’s a reality, Pardo said, in which it’s treated no different than corn or gasoline. The economic benefits for Mexico could therefore be significant; it remains to be seen how widely or fairly such benefits would be spread.



    DPA previously provided a restricted grant to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.

    Photograph by Brett Levin via Flickr

    • Alex was formerly Filter’s news editor. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at VICE, and has been published in the New York Times Magazine, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Los Angeles Times and the New Republic, among other outlets. He was also previously a freelance editorial consultant for the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, has received grants from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. He is currently based in Los Angeles.

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