Mexico and Legal Marijuana in the 21st Century: An Uncertain Future, A Potential for Profit

Mexico has stumbled in its legislative efforts to legalize marijuana, leaving Mexico’s Supreme court as the arbiter of marijuana’s future in our neighbor to the south. As reported by, “Nearly three years after Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ruled that the nation’s marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional, it voted on June 28 to end criminalization on its own because lawmakers failed to pass a legalization bill by a key deadline.”

Part of the problem stems from an inability to reconcile versions of the legislation originating in the Mexican Senate and the lower house of Congress, known as the Chamber of Deputies, which voted for its own version of the proposal in March. But according to Bloomberg News

 . . . the ruling Morena party, which had largely supported the initiative, released a statement this week critiquing revisions made by lower house lawmakers, throwing the bill’s future into uncertainty.” Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal said, “The law should meet two goals, reducing criminality and eliminating the prohibition that has led to thousands of people being imprisoned for having a few grams of marijuana. It should be an instrument for social justice” as reported by Bloomberg. Without the specifications that coherent legislation can provide, the second goal is going to be a difficult mountain to climb. 

Mexico’s Policy Vacuum

This has left a policy vacuum to be filled in by Mexico’s Supreme Court. As explained in the publication The Green Entrepreneur by author Hugo Álvarez, founding partner of Canncura, “As of Monday, June 14, there is the proposal for the General Declaration of Unconstitutionality of the absolute prohibition of the recreational use of cannabis in accordance with the jurisprudence thesis issued in February 2019.” Álvarez states “ . . .the court has the power to issue the General Declaration of Unconstitutionality, as long as it has been approved by a majority of 8 votes of the 11 ministers of the SCJN,” which happened on June 28. 

However without legislative underwriting, Mexican citizens lack the codification necessary to make decisions about purchasing, selling, transporting, and using marijuana without potentially running afoul of the law. All of this makes for a fuzzy picture both politically and socially.

As Alvarez puts it, “it is likely that we live in a limbo of apparent ‘legality’, where we can carry certain amounts and consume cannabis legally, however, everything that is production, transformation, commercialization, etc. It will not be regulated, which can have negative effects for the nascent cannabis industry, mainly it will continue to be a great problem for health, since there will be no mechanisms to verify the purity of the products, and it will continue to feed the irregular market.” 

And beyond the ethical and legal concerns that ecnompass marijuana legalization and push back against the war on drugs, it’s imperative that Mexico get this right for economic reasons. As reported in Marijuna Moment, “Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar of the ruling Morena party said that while legislators must still resolve disagreements about legislation that’s already been introduced and advanced through several committees last month, legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is taking a massive hit under social distancing and stay-at-home orders.” 

The legalization of marijuana in Mexico and the legislative uncertainty surrounding the specifics of this legalization have implications for the United States. Writing for Newsweek, Daniel Villareal states, “The drug’s legalization could also disrupt the violence and trafficking networks established by Mexican cartels.” 

However, this is far from straightforward. Due to the endemic corruption plaguing the politics, the military, and the police force, Mexico will likely struggle to reap the full benefits that marijuana legalization can bring because these dynamics will keep alive the illegal cannabis market. Vanda Felbab-Brown, Director of Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors Foreign Policy for the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology frames it this way

But even in times of economic profit, in Mexico (where local police forces are notoriously starved off budgets and even state forces are frequently underfunded) the generation of equivalent financial resources for enforcement against illegal marijuana seems difficult. More likely than not, it will once again be the Mexican military, perhaps the overstretched and undertrained National Guard, that will be charged with eradication of illegal cannabis grows. And instead of sorting through the complexity of which grow is legal and which not, enforcement officials in Mexico may simply be tempted to extort many grows they come upon.

Never has Mexico needed more clarity as it moves into unchartered territory. It’s citizens deserve nothing less.



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