Lawmakers Take Big Step Toward Legal Recreational Marijuana in Mexico

Mexico’s lower house has approved a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in Mexico. The Mexican Senate is expected to take up the bill, and most observers expect it to pass and become law in 2021.

If so, Mexico would join Canada and Uruguay in legalizing cannabis at the national level. By legalizing recreational marijuana in Mexico, lawmakers also would immediately create the largest single adult-use cannabis market on the planet.

An estimated 129 million people live in Mexico. To put it in context, that’s more than triple the size of the current largest market, the state of California, which has an estimated population of 39.3 million. Canada is home to about 37.7 million people, while about 3.4 million live in Uruguay.

“Today we are in a historic moment,” lawmaker Simey Olvera, a member with Mexico’s governing Morena party, told the New York Times. “With this, the false belief that cannabis is part of Mexico’s serious public health problems is left behind.”

Lawmakers Hope to End Grip of Cartels

It’s impossible to discuss recreational marijuana in Mexico without mention of the nation’s long and bloody history of drug cartels, which has led to the death of thousands of people every year, according to the BBC.

Lawmakers who favor legalization intend for the new law to undercut the power of the cartels. John Walsh, director of drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Times that Mexico is sending a message to the world about cannabis, considering the country’s long battle against drug trafficking. Clearly, they do not see cannabis as part of the problem.

Walsh also said the move to legalize cannabis in Canada and many U.S. states, “North American is heading toward legalization.”

The Mexican Senate already passed a version of the bill, but must pass it again after some changes, most considered minor, were made by the lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies.

What The Law Means to Mexican, U.S. Consumers

For Mexicans, the law would allow those over the age of 18 to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis and grow up to eight plants at home. The current law makes it a crime to carry more than five grams.

The new law also would set up a system, run by the federal government, in which private businesses could win licenses for cultivation, research and export/import of cannabis. The bill mandates that the government gives priority to small farmers and Indigenous people in the awarding of licenses.

The law also could indirectly impact U.S. consumers. If lawmakers make recreational marijuana in Mexico legal, the U.S. will find itself between two countries with legal adult-use cannabis nationwide. And about a third of the U.S. population already lives where cannabis is legal.

All those factors could pressure President Joe Biden, who has opposed legalizing marijuana, into changing his stance. Andrew Rudman,  director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, told Politico that legalization in Mexico could lead to changes in the U.S.

He said, “My guess is at some point that drives the push to decriminalize or legalize. I think Mexico probably gives more impetus to something that might have happened anyways.”

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