Cannabis in Mexico is technically illegal but the law prohibiting its use was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Mexico on October 31, 2018. The effect of the ruling is that the law was generally made unenforceable and that the government of Mexico must act to formally legalize cannabis within a period of 90 days.
Cannabis was introduced to Mexico by the Spanish as early as the 16th century, in the form of hemp. Spain encouraged the production of hemp in the territory, which was used to produce rope and textiles. Following the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821), hemp farming decreased as subsidies from Spain evaporated.
Some academics also believe that indigenous Mexicans adopted psychoactive cannabis as the drug Pipiltzintzintli for ritual purposes and divination. By 1898, cannabis use was prevalent in Mexico. The drug was commonly used for recreational purposes and as a folk remedy to treat pain—particularly among military personnel and the lower class.
In 1882, cannabis was banned at the military hospital in Mexico City, to prevent violence and disorder. Stories of users committing violent crimes were widely circulated by newspapers in Mexico and border towns of the United States. In 1920, Mexico banned the production, sale, and recreational use of cannabis. In 1927, Mexico banned the export of cannabis.
During the late 1970s, a controversial program sponsored by the US government sprayed paraquat on cannabis fields in Mexico. Following Mexican efforts to eradicate cannabis and poppy fields in 1975, the United States government helped by sending helicopters and other technological assistance. Helicopters were used to spray the herbicides paraquat and 2,4-D on the fields; cannabis contaminated with these substances began to show up in US markets, leading to debate about the program.
On 21 August 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis and other drugs in order to reduce the illicit drug activity. Maximum amounts which could be considered "personal use" were established. Under the new law, anyone caught with up to five grams of cannabis will be advised to seek a drug rehabilitation center rather than arrested or fined. President Felipe Calderon claimed the change would allow law enforcement to focus on major traffickers rather than minor consumers. In practice, minor drug possession was already widely tolerated by police.
2015 Supreme Court ruling
In November 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that four individuals from the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use (SMART) would be permitted to grow and consume their own cannabis. The court voted 4–1 that prohibiting people from growing the drug for personal consumption was unconstitutional as it violated the human right to the free development of one's personality.
Limited medical use legalized (2017)
In June 2017, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a bill into law to allow the medical use of cannabis products containing less than one percent THC. The bill passed the Senate by a 98–7 vote in December 2016 and the Lower House of Congress by a 371–19 vote in April 2017.
2018 Supreme Court ruling
On October 31, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the law prohibiting recreational use of cannabis in Mexico was unconstitutional. As this was the fifth time that the court had ruled in such a way, it set a binding precedent across the country's court system. The effect of the ruling was that the law prohibiting cannabis still remained in effect, but it was basically made unenforceable due to the fact that anyone could cite the ruling and demand that their charges be thrown out. The ruling mandated that the government of Mexico move to formally legalize cannabis within the next 90 days. On April 17 2020, the Supreme Court extended the deadline to December 15, 2020.
Views on cannabis
In 2008, only about 7 percent of Mexico's citizens were in favor of legalizing cannabis. That number has grown in the last few years to about 33 percent in favor of legalizing recreational use. This was due to the fact that the war on drugs in Mexico has claimed thousands of lives and destroyed families. The recent legislation of cannabis in the United States could be a factor in making Mexico rethink its views on cannabis. One factor against the regulation of cannabis use in Mexico can be because the majority of Mexico's citizens identify as Catholic. The Catholic Church is against the use of cannabis whether it is for medical or recreational purposes. The Catholic Church believes that legalizing cannabis will encourage teenagers to start using it for recreational purposes, even though the legalization in Colorado proves otherwise. Pope Francis himself said that decriminalizing the drug does not solve the addiction problem, and only by educating the young is what builds values and gives them hope for the future. Furthermore, the most popular Catholic newspaper in Mexico published opinion-based articles in which it was claimed that cannabis had no medical benefits.
Potential effects of legalizations
Although Mexico's recent cannabis legalization is very limited, a full legalization in the future could come with both positive and negative effects in the country.
Medical Marijuana Inc. created another company called HempMeds Mexico soon after RSHO-X, a cannabis-based oil, was the first product of this kind legalized for import to Mexico. Currently this company is the only one that has imported cannabis-based products for medical use in Mexico. So far, this has only benefited a couple of families but they have been working closely with HempMeds Mexico to provide and ensure those in need have access to it. More specifically, they helped a family whose daughter, Graciela Elizalde, suffered from a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome by reducing Graciela's seizures. Days after this case was made public, the Center of Social Studies and Public Opinion (CESPO) surveyed citizens. Eighty-two percent were against cannabis sales, 73 percent were against legalizing cannabis for recreational use, but 76 percent were in favor of legalizing it for medical purposes.
Potential economic benefits
Because this bill is very recent and the legalization of cannabis is very limited through this legislation, there are no facts about how Mexico’s economy has been affected. A legally regulated market could help by bringing in at least $1.2 billion in tax revenues, in addition to revenue from sales; it could also save over $200 million in law enforcement costs such as arrests and imprisonment. The legalization could also create thousands of jobs through spin off industries and decrease the unemployment rate. In total, it could potentially bring about $3–5 billion in direct use of cannabis, and about $12–18 billion in spin off industries to California's economy. If Mexico was to decriminalize medical and recreational cannabis, it could have a similar outcome and benefit Mexico's economy.
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