Mexico’s Relationship to Cannabis Leaves Citizens Uncertain About Legalization

Despite the progress of recent years, Mexico still has a lot of work to do in regards to legalization.

The world has watched the success of Canada’s Bill C-45 and the spread of cannabis regulation across 30 US states. From an outside perspective, it seems Mexico would be soon to follow. But for those living there, general access to dispensaries and regulated cannabis is murky. The country’s population continues to witness the highly publicized arrests of small-time marijuana producers and activists. TV audiences are pounded by hysteric anti-drug moralizing on the news. Despite the progress of recent years, true legalization of mexa-marijuana often seems like a pipe dream.

Mexico’s legalization movement may have begun in 1985 with sociologist Juan Pablo García Vallejo’s Manifesto Pacheco (or, the Stoner’s Manifesto). The text linked the plant to Mexican counterculture and anti-capitalist forces. By the ‘90s, cultural luminaries like novelist Octavio Paz were among those calling for its acceptance. Many cited legalization as a way to reduce the power of drug cartels, whose bloody battle for US market share began to cost even more Mexican lives with the advent of President Felipe Calderon’s War on Drugs. It’s estimated that 120,000 Mexicans were killed in the government-cartel crossfire that took place between 2006 and 2013.

Still, activists were largely unable to sway—or interest—the country’s executive and legislative branches toward legalization. In 2015, however, their tactics switched to focus on the judicial branch. By the end of that year, eight-year-old Graciela Elizalde had won the right to use cannabis to treat her severe form of epilepsy. The Supreme Court then approved four people from the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Self-Consumption (SMART) the right to grow, transport and smoke marijuana.

The victories did not give the general population the right to consume marijuana, however. But it did act as a catalyst towards changing the country’s laws. And though neither decision legalized production—which would have been a calculated move against the cartels’ economic foundation—the country passed its first limited medical marijuana laws in 2017. Under the regulations, which went into effect last year, those with doctor’s recommendations have access to cannabis oil of less than one percent THC.

Foreign cannabis investors have been eagerly watching Mexico’s legal shifts, and international importers currently lead the country’s small medical marijuana industry. According to the “LATAM Cannabis Report” released by Prohibition Partners, a U.K.-based cannabis data firm, companies from California, Europe, Canada, and Israel have received over 300 permits to import cannabis products. According to this Latin American marijuana market report, Mexico’s future seems bright. It predicts that the legal Mexican cannabis market will reach $2 billion by 2028, provided the country stays on track with the momentum of legalization.

Why then, is it so difficult for Mexico City’s police force to embark on a cheeky marijuana education campaign, like the one that recently came out of Toronto? With Canadian pot newly legal, cops across the Great White North are encouraging citizens to quit snitching on adults for smoking joints or cultivating plants.

Alas, there’s a simple reason behind the dissonance in Mexico. While business people line up for future legalization opportunities, Mexican law enforcement’s relationship with cannabis is still tainted by Reefer Madness.

For instance, last month an irresponsible media profile led to a raid on a micro-business that made cannabis infused Pelon Pelo Rico, a popular tamarind candy. Soon after, Twitter users documented a patch of cannabis plants growing alongside a busy Estado de Mexico road, warranting a military removal operation within hours. Streets were closed to assure the plants’ expedient eradication, though motorists noted the soldiers managed to miss one.

Then, in August, members of activist group Esquadrón Cannábico opened a retail shop on Paseo de la Reforma, a central boulevard in Mexico City. They worked eight-hour shifts, doling out paraphernalia and flower to passers-by. Six people from the group were taken to jail.

Neither Mexican cops nor the government sends a consistent message about marijuana. In September, El Sol de México published a column by Aram Barra, a cannabis activist, who calls the Mexican government’s position on drug policy “an absolute schizophrenia.” Barra also reminds readers that Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s outgoing president, consistently maintains a politically ambiguous but personally negative stance on legalization. And, he seems to maintain this stance despite speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on global strategy regarding the war on drugs in 2016.

It’s not all grim, however. There are some signs that change is imminent. For instance, Vicente Fox, the ex-president of Mexico and member of High Times’ board of directors, is among those putting pressure on Peña Nieto to make a grand legalization gesture before leaving office in December. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president elect, has said he will consider legalizing marijuana to finally help curb drug-related violence. López’s appointment of Olga Sánchez Cordero, a pro-depenalization interior minister and former Supreme Court associate justice, has further raised the hopes of activists.

But Mexicans have good reason to be wary of these teasers. The country’s wildly fatal War on Drugs has served to line the pockets of corrupt politicians and cartel bosses—to the tune of an estimated $3.9 billion in yearly revenues. Thus far, there has been little to ensure that money will be redirected towards the good of the general population.

Similarly, Mexico’s progress towards the legalization of marijuana appears to be prioritizing its elite and the concerns of the first world. If international corporations are allowed to walk away with the country’s commercial cannabis profits while the stigma remains for small time Mexican producers and consumers, will “legalization” actually change anything? Even more than legalization, though, Mexicans deserve a legal plan to ensure retribution for the years of Drug War Injustices.

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