Mexico Legalized Medical Marijuana—Heres Exactly What That Means

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American exceptionalism is strong, for none of the right reasons. As of Monday, the United States is the only country in North America where the federal government believes cannabis can in no circumstances be medicine.

Since 2013, Canada’s health authority has offered federal licenses to medical marijuana cultivators and providers, who can then provide cannabis to qualified patients without any of the risk or legal gray areas seen in America.

Mexico’s Health Ministry is now poised to follow suit, after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed an executive a decree on Monday legalizing medical marijuana in the country.

However, for the immediate future, if you’re in Mexico and actually want to find any store-bought, regulated legal cannabis, you’ll be better off crossing the border into California, Nevada or Arizona, or visiting family in Canada.

Peña Nieto’s move was a formality and has been expected since April, when the Mexican Congress approved a medical marijuana bill, and when Peña Nieto himself—once staunchly anti-marijuana and opposed to legalization—came out in support of broadly reforming the country’s marijuana laws, giving a speech calling for broad, sweeping drug reform at the United Nations. 

Influenced at least in part by developments north of the border, Mexico has seen a sort of “legalization creep” in recent years. In 2015, the country’s Supreme Court gave four medical-marijuana patients permission to grow and use the drug. And just as in America, more and more families with children stricken with illnesses for which cannabis provides relief have publicly appealed for medical exceptions.

As it is, the country does allow for national distribution of hemp-derived CBD oil, a task undertaken by several American companies.

But there’s no question, marijuana reform has had a profound impact on the unrelenting violence that’s plagued the region. Ever since U.S. states began legalizing cannabis, the drug has started to disappear from cartel portfolios. Reducing cartel profits—and, with it, violence—was one of the stated reasons why Uruguay became the first country to legalize recreational cannabis at the national level in 2013.

Drug policy reform is understandably popular in certain circles in Mexico and in South America, which bears the brunt of the violence that accompanies the global illegal drug trade.

There is no evidence suggesting that Mexicans consume drugs more than Americans, who are the chief consumers of cocaine and other drugs produced and transported South of the Border, but there is no question that everyday Mexicans and citizens of other nations are the victims of the resultant ghastly cartel violence.

In addition to legalizing medical cannabis use and research, Peña Nieto also proposed increasing the amount of recreational cannabis Mexicans can possess from five grams to 28 grams.

Monday’s decree classifies THC as “therapeutic” and calls on the Mexican Health Ministry to create rules (sound familiar?) governing “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica and Americana or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol,” as the Washington Post reported.

However, as the Post reported, not everybody in “conservative” and religious Mexico believes legalization is the path towards ending the drug war. About two-thirds of Mexicans are opposed to mere decriminalization, the newspaper noted, reluctance egged on by the influential Catholic Church, who called the country’s drug reform advocates “bad Mexican copycats.”

As far as these copycats are concerned, Mexico is still dragging its feet and has much more to do. As the Post reported, following medical marijuana’s overwhelming approval in the Mexican Senate, lawmakers said that the progress made so far is “well below expectations,” and a “tiny” step away from blatantly bad policy. 

That could change rapidly, depending on how serious and how ambitious Mexico is about implementing a legal framework for medical cannabis. Will it become another Canada, where 50 companies currently hold licenses to cultivate and distribute weed? Or will it be even more permissive—because, in Canada, more than 1400 companies have tried and failed to acquire marijuana licenses? The answer will save lives.

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