Mexican Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Legalize Cannabis
Mexico’s incoming government has brought forward a bill before Congress which, if passed, would legalize recreational cannabis use. The bill is a key part of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s plan to tackle the country’s ongoing drug war using peaceful means.
The bill was introduced by Senator Olga Sánchez Cordero, an ex-Supreme Court Justice who will become the country’s interior minister once Pres.-elect Obrador takes office, and would allow persons over the age of 18 to possess and use cannabis recreationally, as well as cultivate up to 20 plants at home for personal use. Consumption of cannabis would also be allowed in public places where smoking tobacco is already allowed.
The structure of the bill contains 75 individual articles which would give the Mexican government strict control over the country’s cannabis industry, with all commercial activities involving cannabis or cannabis-derived products being regulated by the government.
The status of cannabis in Mexico
The bill currently being presented to Congress is the result of nearly a decade of slowly-shifting drug policy in Mexico.
In 2009, the decision was made by the Mexican government to decriminalize the possession of small (e.g. personal use) amounts of drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and cannabis. Instead of possession resulting in a criminal charge and possible jail time, drug users would be referred to free drug addiction treatment programs and treated as patients, not criminals.
In 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court (including then-Justice Sánchez, now Senator Sánchez) voted to legalize medicinal cannabis use in some specific cases. The ruling concluded that certain aspects of Mexico’s health laws that restricted medical cannabis use were infringing on citizens’ constitutional right to self-determination. The Supreme Court ruling followed momentum created by an earlier decision from a federal judge that allowed the parents of Graciela Elizalde, an 8-year-old suffering from extreme drug-resistant epileptic seizures, to import cannabis-derived CBD oil into Mexico to treat their daughter.
Two years later, the Mexican Senate and Lower House of Congress passed a bill that would officially legalize medicinal cannabis in Mexico. In June 2017, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the bill into law, allowing the government to start to implement a functional medicinal cannabis program nationwide.
Tackling drug-related violence in Mexico
As a country, Mexico has had extensive problems with numerous regional drug cartels. The problems were exacerbated when then-President Felipe Calderón officially declared the beginning of Mexico’s militarized “War on Drugs” in 2006 by sending thousands of armed troops into his home state of Michoacán to disrupt the rival gang violence that was common in the state. Within the first year of this government crackdown, Mexican officials had successfully captured one high-profile drug lord, but over 2,800 people had been killed as a direct result of drug-related violence. Today, drug-related violence and the action of drug cartels and gangs in the ongoing drug war are still credited as the major causes behind Mexico’s climbing homicide rate.
"The law responds to the new reality that the country lives: 240,000 dead and 40,000 disappeared within 10 years, in addition to thousands of children threatened by organized crime,” said Senator Sánchez as she introduced the bill, recognizing the effect Mexico’s drug war has had on its citizens.
“The policy of prohibition arises from the false assumption that the problem of drugs should be tackled from a penal focus,” added Senator Sánchez. “The objective can’t be to eradicate the consumption of a substance that’s as prevalent as cannabis is.”
Likelihood of full legalization
Pres.-elect Obrador won a landslide victory in Mexico’s presidential election. He has a coalition of three parties - his own Movement for National Regeneration, the far-left Labor Party, and the conservative Social Encounter party - all supporting his presidency, giving him close to a supermajority in Congress. He ran on a platform that included a large program of “pacification” which included cannabis law reform as well as other measures such as holding regular public forums and creating commissions with the sole purpose of investigating episodes of violence in the country.
Despite the large amounts of support for Pres.-elect Obrador and his policies, the cannabis legalization bill will still face a number of challenges before it can become law, as it passes through numerous committees and both houses of Mexico’s Congress. More conservative parties are expected to challenge elements of the bill in an attempt to halt its progress through the political system. Still, the near-supermajority means that only a small number of moderate politicians will need to be convinced of the bill’s merits in order for it to pass, making legalization likely.
It will take some time for the bill to move its way through Congress but, if passed, Mexico will join Uruguay and Canada in federally legalizing cannabis. As an unintended consequence, the passing of this bill could increase pressure on the United States to reconsider their own federal prohibition on cannabis, as legalization begins to dominate the Americas.