A few weeks ago, lawmakers in Mexico approved a bill to legalise recreational marijuana, a milestone for the country, which is in the throes of a drug war and could become the world’s largest cannabis market, leaving the United States between two marijuana-selling neighbours.
The 316-to-129 vote in the Chamber of Deputies came more than two years after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the country’s ban on recreational marijuana was unconstitutional and more than three years after the country legalised medicinal cannabis.
The measure would allow adults to smoke marijuana and, with a permit, grow a small number of cannabis plants at home. It would also grant licenses for producers — from small farmers to commercial growers — to cultivate and sell the crop.
If enacted, Mexico will join Canada and Uruguay in a small but growing list of countries that have legalised marijuana in the Americas, adding further momentum to the legalisation movement in the region. In the United States, Democrats in the Senate have also promised to scrap federal prohibition of the drug this year.
Security experts agree that the law’s practical impact on violence will likely be minimal: with 15 American states having now legalised marijuana, they argue, the crop has become a relatively small part of the Mexican drug trafficking business, with cartels focusing on more profitable products like fentanyl and methamphetamines.
Proponents of legalising marijuana contend that the bill is too limited in scope, even if it represents a symbolic breakthrough in the push to end a drug war that has cost an estimated 150,000 lives.
The bill mandates that small farmers and indigenous people be given priority in licensing, but stipulates only that these vulnerable groups can be granted more than one license.
With more than 120 million people, Mexico would represent the largest marijuana market in the world by population. The crop could become big business in Mexico, a potential financial lift for an economy badly battered by the coronavirus crisis.
Some activists fear that the law will overly favour large corporations, giving them access to the entire marijuana supply chain, from seed to sale, while leaving small-scale producers and vendors locked out of the lucrative market.
The bill in Mexico would allow individual users to carry up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow six cannabis plants at home. Cannabis could also be purchased by adults over 18 at authorised businesses and grown at a larger scale by licensed groups. Medical marijuana, which Mexico legalised in 2017, would be regulated separately by the Health Ministry.
Local activists say the restrictions on possession will limit the bill’s impact, particularly for low-income consumers, who may fall prey to extortion from the police, a regular occurrence in Mexico.