The Legalization of Cannabis in Mexico

By order of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Mexican Congress must regulate the personal use of adults who consume or accept the legalization of cannabis. However, it has failed to articulate a project that satisfies users, entrepreneurs, and growers.

In November 2015, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) determined that the prohibition of personal use of cannabis is unconstitutional because it undermines the right to free personality development. From that moment, the Mexican Court has ruled in the same direction in four more cases, which forced the Congress of the American country to modify several articles of the general health law and opened the door for the regulation of the production, cannabis trade, and consumption.

Said mandate of the Court must be fulfilled before the end of October. But after numerous forums, discussions, and initiatives of law that emerged from all political spectra, the deadline expired without any approved project. On October 24, the Senate Justice Commission requested the SCJN an extension to carry out the reform, and the Court granted it, exceptionally, until April 30, 2020.

Tania Ramírez, director of the Mexican Anti-Crime Association (MUCD) drug policy program, said that political will is needed to move the project forward. But he also notes that there have been failures in the process. “This question is difficult, but they have enough input to make a serious and workable proposal, and they haven’t done it. This time-consuming process is just a technical, organizational failure of the process,” Ramirez said in an interview with France 24.

Now, “the big question is whether legislators will continue working on the document that already exists or start a new one,” Zara Snapp, co-founder of the RIA Institute, told this media. And it is that the document on which it was already working was widely criticized by organizations such as the RIA Institute and the MUCD. According to these associations, the project favored the big industry over small growers and violated users’ rights, who ask that marijuana possession be decriminalized, and self-cultivation expanded. 

A Law Adapted to Large Companies?

Shortly before the deadline set by the Court to regulate the use of cannabis was met, the coordinator of Morena (the government party) in the Mexican Senate, Ricardo Monreal, acknowledged that there were “undue pressures” by the industry and the pharmaceutical companies to influence the bill and decided to “cool the discussion.”

For Ramírez, the business sector’s influence was very evident in the document that the Senate presented to the public because “it seemed drafted by and for the industry.” And as the MUCD researcher points out, the interest groups will not disappear because the discussion gets cold. The challenge is to participate in a market that is close to a billion dollars, and that could become “the largest in the world for medical and recreational marijuana,” said Antonio Droghetti, director of Canopy Latam, a subsidiary of Canadian Canopy Growth, in the local Mexican media.

As the current bill proposes, the requirements regarding cultivation and production would limit small producers’ participation, as reported by civil associations. For Snapp, the peasants, who are those who cultivate illegally today, are the ones who must be able to “cultivate, transform and sell the plant and have the greatest profits in this market.” According to the political scientist and the medical cannabis law passed in 2017, privileged foreign companies can sell their products in Mexico “with very high costs for any Mexican family.” So far, that law has not been regulated.

On the other hand, business people also do not seem to be happy with the current bill. During an international cannabis forum held in Mexico City, industry representatives asked to remove some private participation restrictions. They call for eliminating the cap of 20% of foreign capital participation in the licenses for the commercialization of marijuana and eliminating the clause that prevents the same person from obtaining licenses for different phases of cannabis production.

The Marijuana Legalization Experiment

For Colombian-Canadian doctor Paola Cubillos, who works in medical cannabis research in Colombia, it is still too early to assess the social impact of cannabis legalization in Canada, which entered into force in October 2018. For now, Cubillos notes. What has been observed is that the pattern of consumption in young people, “one of the biggest concerns they had before legalization,” has not changed much. Consumption seems to have increased more in adults who use cannabis for medical purposes.

In general, as Cubillos explained for France 24, legalization aims to minimize the risks of consumption, implement public policies, and control the quality of the substances offered. It is also a way to combat the black market’s violence and protect young people, who are the most exposed and vulnerable to illegality.

So far, only two countries have legalized cannabis, both for medicinal and recreational use: Uruguay and Canada. None of these is comparable with Mexico since they are much smaller in terms of population and have no violence problems associated with drug trafficking. “What Canada relied on to support legalization is that Canadians were already major cannabis users, and this has not been associated with very significant health problems,” Cubillos said.

In Colombia, a country much closer to Mexico in terms of its social characteristics and part of the drug trafficking chain, the legalization of medical cannabis -approved in 2016 and regulated in 2017-has also been delayed in taking off. But perhaps one of the biggest problems is that there is a double policy against marijuana: on the one hand, a regulated policy for medical cannabis is implemented, and on the other, the illegal production and commercialization of recreational use is combated. This has caused the violence to persist, and many have not passed to legality.

In the words of doctor Paola Cubillos, it is “an opportunity that was lost, because the spirit of the legislation was that it would accommodate all those small growers who come from illegality to contribute to a legal market and that it has not materialized in any way.”The same small producers as Mexican civil associations insist on protecting adults’ future global law on cannabis use.