Mexico has had a long and complicated relationship with cannabis throughout its history. Although marijuana has been grown in Mexico since as early as the 16th century, when hemp was popular for rope and textiles, in 1920 the production of cannabis for recreational use was banned and in 1927 exports were also forbidden. Soon after, marijuana was criminalized throughout the country. Mexican policies in many ways mirrored and were shaped by the anti-marijuana movement that developed in the United States at the same time.
But not always. In 1940, Mexico completely rethought its drug policies. For a six-month stretch, the Federal Regulation of Drug Addiction decriminalized the sale and use of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin and released small-time drug offenders from jails. Instead of imposing punitive measures, the law allowed doctors to establish outpatient clinics and treatments and prescribe narcotics to addicts. Despite generally encouraging early reports, including the cratering of the illegal drug trade, the law was overturned. Citing wartime shortages in morphine and cocaine, and facing threats of U.S. embargoes due to the policy, the government threw out the legislation and restored the earlier penalties. By December 1940, a new administration took over in Mexico and began military operations against peasant marijuana farmers. With U.S. aid, unsuccessful attempts were made to eradicate crops of marijuana and poppy fields in the 1970s with aerial spraying of herbicides.
On Dec. 11, 2006, Mexico launched its “war on drugs,” when troops were dispersed throughout the country. It has been a bloody and costly campaign. Estimates range into the hundreds of thousands of dead, plus tens of thousands missing and abducted. The cost has been staggering, corruption remains rampant, and the cartels remain entrenched.
In August 2009, possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana was decriminalized. Between 2015 and 2018, the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings loosening restrictions on the use of marijuana. The early rulings have found the absolute prohibition of marijuana for medical use was unconstitutional, as it did not protect the right to health. In October 2018, the high court expanded its rulings to include recreational marijuana, arguing that the prohibition violated free expression. The latest ruling is the fifth by the court on the issue, making it binding on all courts in the country.
A 26-page bill has been authored by Sen. Olga Sanchez Cordero, who was selected by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to be Mexico’s interior minister. It faces the possibility of extensive debate and revisions in the Congress of the Union, the bill provides a possible roadmap for eventual legislation. Under the proposal, the minimum age for recreational consumption would be 18, up to 20 plants could be grown at home for personal consumption, and up to 480 grams, or about 1.1 pounds, can be produced. Consumption would be allowed in public places where tobacco smoking is permitted. Supplying cannabis to minors would be illegal. Other issues being discussed include legalization of recreational marijuana at tourist resorts and amnesty for low-level producers.
to Be to Consume?
In the wake of decisions in October 2018 by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) to strike down the country’s prohibition on recreational marijuana, Mexico may be on the doorstep of joining Canada and Uruguay as the third Western Hemisphere country to legalize all uses of cannabis nationally. However, despite the high court’s decision, recreational marijuana is not legal to possess or use, as prohibitions remain while the legislature considers how to update and draft new drug laws and regulations.
Medical use of “pharmacological derivatives of marijuana,” but only products with less than one (1) percent THC, was legalized in 2017. However, the regulations have yet to be enacted. Personal possession of up to five (5) grams, or 0.18 ounces, was decriminalized in 2009. Commercial sales of cannabis remain illegal.
Medical Marijuana in Mexico
A new law allowing the use of medical cannabis with signed into law in June 2017. Although the use of imported cannabis derivatives with low-THC content is allowed, products are not readily available in pharmacies. The government must first produce a framework of regulations for the distribution, manufacturing, potency, qualifying conditions, and patient requirements to receive medical cannabis Currently, only one company exports cannabis to Mexico, and commercial cultivation within the country is illegal.
The Mexican Ministry of Health will oversee the country’s medical marijuana program. Mexico began issuing medical marijuana identification cards in 2015. Regulations were intended to be in place by early 2018 but were delayed by the 2018 elections. It is expected that once regulations are approved, medical marijuana use will require a recommendation from a doctor and could be available through pharmacies rather than dispensaries.