The Status of Cannabis Legalization in Mexico
Mexico has a very different relationship with cannabis than the United States. Since American pop culture has embraced marijuana and its surrounding cultures, we commonly associate it with hippies, college kids, the munchies, Willie Nelson, and Snoop Dogg. With more and more states legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, the plant is becoming a normalized part of American culture at a rapid rate. Reefer Madness may be fading into the background state-side, but it’s still going strong with our neighbors to the south.
Mexico has been fighting its War on Drugs since 2006, with no end in sight. Many Mexican citizens have negative connotations of cannabis. Due to the drug cartels and their bloody past, support for legalizing marijuana is minimal throughout Mexico. Even though marijuana was made illegal in 1920, it continued to be grown and exported to the United States, primarily by cartels and drug traffickers. The dangerous cartels have made life difficult for many Mexicans. Furthermore, the Catholic Church has taken a staunch anti-cannabis stance; because Mexico has a Catholic majority of — 81% — their influence is widespread. Many residents believe the old hype: marijuana is a gateway drug that corrupts kids and leads to a dangerous lifestyle. Reefer Madness is still pervasive throughout Mexico.
Current Mexico Cannabis Laws
In 2009, in an effort to refocus law enforcement resources into curbing the activities of distributors and the cartels, the Mexican Government voted to decriminalize personal possession of cannabis. Individuals may possess up to five grams of cannabis without facing legal repercussions. This was Mexico’s first step towards cannabis law reform.
Then, in 2017, the Mexican government voted again to legalize medicinal cannabis use across the country. Medical marijuana products must contain less than 1% THC. Following the success of legalized medicinal marijuana, support is starting to grow for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the future.
A Brief History of Cannabis in Mexico
Cannabis plants were first brought to the new world in the 16th century by the Spanish. Colonists and settlers brought the hemp plant with them and cultivated it extensively to make rope and textiles. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1810, hemp farming began to decrease throughout the country. However, a new type of cannabis plant was becoming more popular; psychoactive strains of cannabis, presumably imported from India or Jamaica, were commonly grown by locals throughout Mexico. By the late 1800s, recreational cannabis use was widespread. The plant was also regarded as a folk remedy for minor aches and pains, which makes sense, as marijuana is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Then, in 1920, the Mexican government banned the cultivation, sale, and recreational use of cannabis. Reefer Madness had gripped the western world, and the Catholic Church’s influence over Mexico and it’s religious residents was strong.
In the 1970s and 80s, drug trafficking was rampant, as kingpins like Pablo Escobar used Mexico as an expressway to transport drugs from Central America to the United States. Local cartels sprung up and joined the drug lords to create their own trafficking rings. The War on Drugs has been ongoing since 2016, though many question the effectiveness of these operations and the unintended backlash often created when law enforcement and the government take on these organized crime units.
The 2009 decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis and other drugs intended for personal use was a step in the right direction. Law enforcement can now spend more time and money going after larger distributors and the cartels.
Pancho Villa, Hemp Hero
Marijuana didn’t always have a negative connotation in Mexico. The Mexican folk hero Pancho Villa was known for enjoying marijuana, even smoking it before battle to become “mas valiente” (more valiant). He also smoked marijuana cigarettes with his soldiers. Pancho and his men would sing songs about marijuana, including this version of the folk song La Cucaracha: “La cucaracha, la cucaracha / Ya no puede caminar / Porque no tiene, porque no tiene / Marihuana que fumar.” Pancho Villa was a general in the Constitutionalist army during the Mexican Revolution. He was a charismatic leader who became a cultural icon, even starring as himself in several Hollywood productions. He became an internationally known revolutionary figure, fighting for democracy against an oppressive regime.
Mexico’s Modern Day Robin Hood
Pancho Villa was born to poor parents on an estate in rural Mexico. At 16, he became an outlaw and moved to Chinchilla, in the northern part of Mexico. At the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, Pancho connected with Madero, the leader of the Revolution, who hired him on as a lieutenant in the Constitutionalist Army. After Madero was elected to the presidency in 1911, Pancho was promoted to general. He continued to fight for democracy and land reform for the people of Mexico until his retirement in 1920. He has been considered a modern Robin Hood character in Mexican folk history for his efforts to reclaim Mexico for the people.
The Future of Cannabis in Mexico
With California legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, Mexico will have to reconsider it’s historically hard-line stance against legal weed. If the results are anything like legalization in Colorado or California, the benefits could be huge.
The major difference between legalization in the U.S. and in Mexico is the potential fallout from the cartels. Many people think that legalization and regulation of cannabis by the government would undercut the cartels, weakening and eventually dismantling them. However, since cartels often deal with much more serious drugs than cannabis anyway, it remains to be seen what the impact will be.
How Can Mexico Benefit from Cannabis Legalization?
If recreational marijuana were legalized, Mexico could expect to see a potential $1.2 billion in tax revenues from cannabis sales. The potential for job creation at every level of cultivation and production could help decrease the national unemployment rate. Currently, only 33% of Mexican citizens support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but that may change as cultural and political attitudes towards cannabis continue to progress.
There are also many medicinal benefits of cannabis; it can be used as a natural anti-inflammatory pain reliever, sedative, and antidepressant. Because it is easy to grow and widely available, it could benefit people in poorer or more rural areas who don’t have access to hospitals and regular medical care.
In the last decade, Mexico has made considerable strides towards the acceptance and legalization of cannabis. Recently, Canada legalized medical and recreational cannabis on a national level. In the United States, more states vote to free the weed every year. We will look forward to the ever-widening therapeutic benefits sure to be gained from the end of cannabis prohibition in North America.