SIM Report: Latin America and the Caribbean, Issue 8

Mexico: Marijuana legalisation moves a step closer despite president’s lack of support

On 19 November, Mexico’s senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a marijuana legalisation bill which would pave the way for a legal market for the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The bill secured the backing of 82 senators, including the ruling Morena party of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with 18 votes against and seven abstentions. Following its approval, the bill moved to the chamber of deputies, the lower house of congress, for its consideration. In December, lawmakers in the lower house asked for additional time to scrutinise the proposals, and they will now be considered during the legislative session beginning in February 2021.

The proposals would allow users to carry up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow up to four plants at home. Sales of marijuana at licensed businesses would be permitted, with products required to comply with maximum limits of psychoactive ingredients. Moreover, sales of marijuana products would be limited to 28 grams per person per day, while businesses would not be allowed to sell marijuana mixed with certain other substances, including alcohol, tobacco, or energy drinks. Adults would be banned from consuming the drug in front of children, with the latter prohibited from purchasing, using, or growing the drug.

Despite the delay, the bill is highly likely to be approved by the lower house. Like the senate, the chamber of deputies is controlled by the ruling Morena party and its allies, and lawmakers are likely to back the proposals in similar proportions to their senate counterparts. Any bill passed through congress must then be signed into law by López Obrador, who would likely approve the bill despite not publicly backing the proposals. While many lawmakers in his Morena party strongly support the legalisation of marijuana for recreational use, López Obrador holds more socially conservative positions than many of his party colleagues. Moreover, López Obrador is likely mindful that any support for the proposals could alienate some of his socially-conservative supporters and damage relations with his conservative allies from the Partido Encuentro Social (PES).

Mexico’s likely legalisation of marijuana follows a 2018 supreme court decision backing the recreational use of the drug and reflects a gradual softening of lawmakers’ views on marijuana throughout much of the Americas. In the past decade, Canada, Uruguay, and multiple US states have legalised marijuana for recreational use, with policymakers increasingly focusing on harm reduction rather than prevention. In Mexico, the legalisation of marijuana would have both commercial and security implications. Commercially, Mexico would become the world’s largest regulated market for recreational cannabis, with integrated North American trading relations likely to leading to major investments from established US and Canadian marijuana firms. The drug’s legalisation would also impact drug cartels, who would likely shift their focus to sourcing and supplying narcotics which remain illegal internationally, including cocaine and heroin. This would likely impact cartels’ strategies, although their tactics and violent practices would be unaffected across much of Mexico.

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