Mexico’s Legal Cannabis Landscape: What the United States Can Anticipate and Learn from Mexico’s Path to the Legalization of Adult-Use Cannabis

History and Legislative Process

Similar to the United States in many ways, Mexico’s relationship with cannabis has been an arduous one.[1] Anti-marijuana policies that were promulgated in the United States penetrated geographic borders in the mid-21st-century and had a notable impact on Mexico’s own criminalization of cannabis.[2] In the early 2000’s, “Mexico officially launched its war on drugs when troops were dispersed throughout the country in an attempt to thwart drug cartels and their black-market operations.”[3] Unsurprisingly, the “war on drugs” was not only unsuccessful, but costly to Mexico; “estimates range into the hundreds of thousands of dead, plus tens of thousands missing and abducted.”[4] Mexico’s war on drugs has also done little to solve issues of corruption and cartel influence.[5]

Most recently, Mexico’s cannabis policies have begun to shift towards not only decriminalizing cannabis (as was done in 2009 for small quantities of adult-use cannabis), but towards a nation-wide legalization movement.[6] Unlike many individual states in the U.S. that have “legalized” adult-use cannabis through ballot initiatives, “in Mexico [legalization] was mandated by the Supreme court in 2018 after a series of litigations in which the Supreme Court found that criminalization of cannabis violated the constitutional rights of Mexicans.”[7] After the Supreme Court ruling, lawmakers were mandated to enact cannabis policy “aimed at eliminating prohibitionism and guaranteeing the safety and control of consumption based on proper regulation.”[8] Cannabis-advocates anticipate that the Supreme Court decision must quickly be followed up by a legislative measure establishing the regulatory system to prevent chaos from ensuing.[9]

Anticipated Social and Economic Impacts of the (Future) Bill

Last year, the Senate “approved a legalization bill” which was then then sent to the Chamber of Deputies, where revisions were made.[10] The bill has now made it back to the originating chamber, where it currently remains.[11]Although many are optimistic that the bill will have broad and beneficial effects – both socially and economically – for Mexico, the “new legislation will likely fall short.”[12] One of the largest concerns expressed by constituents is the “continued criminalization and lack of forethought about agencies responsible for its implementation.”[13]

The concern of continued criminalization is a valid one. Currently, “under the new law, anyone over the age of 18 in Mexico will be able to purchase and possess less than 28 grams of cannabis.” But, possession for more than 28 grams is subjected to fines and, individuals caught with over the amount of 200 grams can be sentences to six years in prison; adult’s “cultivating more than eight cannabis plans in their home can be imprisoned for up to ten years.”[14] Because of the long-recognized “pervasive corruption” in Mexico, some speculate that “officers who want to line their pockets will simply claim that the accosted individual had more than the mandated limit.”[15]

Additionally, there is an increasing concern that “bigger, more monied companies and corporations will push others out (a concern shared at the state level in the U.S.).”[16] Many cannabis activists are particularly distraught over the potential for Mexico’s cannabis industry to be infiltrated by larger corporations because “they envisioned that legalization legislation would create reparations for the poor farmers for suffering earlier eradication drives.”[17] Predictably, this original objective has been diminished throughout the legislative process. Originally, about 40% of “cultivation licenses would be reserved for Mexico’s indigenous peoples, communal land farmers, and others assessed as vulnerable.”[18] The current version has weakened and shrunk this initiative significantly.[19]

Some experts have predicted that, if done right, Mexico’s cannabis industry could lead to a significant economic surplus.[20] Others say the exact opposite and suggest that the economic boom experienced in Mexico would likely be minimal and short lived because of the “relatively low domestic demand and little chance of exporting the product.”[21]Instead of focusing on the cultivation and sale of cannabis, some “businessmen say. . . .Mexico’s biggest gains may be doing what Mexico already does best: manufacturing – in this case, potentially producing cannabis products like nutritional supplements and cosmetics.” Experts also state speculate that “real money in Mexico may be in medical cannabis…as well as industrial help.”[22] Interestingly, there is a possibility that hemp may not be included in the final version of the Mexican government’s legalization bill “as it may pose too much of a threat to existing Mexican industries.” Should hemp be “excluded from the final bill, it would have ramifications for the cannabinoid and CBD industry in Mexico.”[23]

Potential Impacts on a “Sandwiched” United States

In the near future, “the United States will be sandwiched between two nations with federally legalized marijuana” – Mexico and Canada.[24] This leaves great potential for Mexico to be a key player in international trade. Within 5-10 years, “cannabis could be included in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).”[25] Mexico may be one of the most desirable place to grow cannabis because “it’s cheap and easy to grow in the country” and convenient to export to “nearby North American neighbors.”[26] Additionally, there may be a time in the future when cannabis is treated no differently than other agricultural exports, ultimately leaving Mexico with the potential for significant economic gain.

As is often the case in the cannabis sphere, much is still to be determined about Mexico’s future, possible pressures that the United States may feel that pushes it towards federal legalization, and the prospect of international trade within the geographical region. Because there are so many parallels between Mexico and the United States’ complex and fragile relationship with cannabis, the United States should closely observe – as it will soon be in Mexico’s shoes and tasked with creating an extensive, thoughtful, and inspiring bill.

[1] Weedmaps, Mexico, https://weedmaps.com/learn/laws-and-regulations/mexico (last visited Mar. 2, 2022).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Vanda Felbab-Brown, Mexico’s cannabis legalization legalization and comparisons with Colombia, Lebanon, and Canada, BROOKINGS (Mar. 30, 2021), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/03/30/mexicos-cannabis-legalization-and-comparisons-with-colombia-lebanon-and-canada/.

[8] Kyle Jaeger, Top Mexican Senator Says Marijuana Legalization Bill May Be Taken Up Within Weeks (Oct. 20, 2021), https://www.marijuanamoment.net/top-mexican-senator-says-marijuana-legalization-bill-may-be-taken-up-within-weeks/.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Alex Norcia, What Will a Legal Cannabis Market Mean for Mexico?, FILTER (Mar. 16, 2021), https://filtermag.org/legal-cannabis-market-mexico/.

[13] Id.

[14] Felbab-Brown, supra note 7.

[15] Id.

[16] Norcia, supra note 12.

[17] Felbab-Brown, supra note 7.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Oscar Lopez, A Green Wave? Mexico’s Marijuana Market May Be Middling, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 12, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/12/world/americas/mexico-marijuana-legalization.html.

[21] Oscar Lopez, Mexico Set to Legalize Marijuana, Becoming World’s Largest Market, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 19, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/10/world/americas/mexico-cannabis-bill.html.

[22] Id.

[23] Robert Hoban, Mexico Will Legalize The World’s Largest Legal Cannabis Market, FORBES, (Nov. 29, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthoban/2020/11/29/mexico-will-legalize-the-worlds-largest-legal-cannabis-market/?sh=dc3a102708c6.

[24] Id.

[25] Norcia Supra note 12.

[26] Id.