Mexican lawmakers to vote on legalizing marijuana

Natalia Cano
·2-min read

Mexican lawmakers were expected to vote Wednesday on whether to legalize recreational marijuana use -- a move that could transform the land of the drug cartels into a huge regulated market.

The sweeping reform is partly aimed at curbing drug-related violence that claims thousands of lives each year in the Latin American nation.

The move would make Mexico, home to 126 million people, one of just a few countries, including Uruguay and Canada, to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

"In theory, it will create the largest legal market in the world due to Mexico's production capacity," said Lisa Sanchez, director of the NGO Mexico United Against Crime.

In Mexico, "marijuana grows in natural conditions without the energy investments that are made in Canada, for example," she said.

The legislation will be debated and put to a vote in the lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, following its approval by the Senate in November.

It could still be sent back to the Senate for a new vote following changes by the lower house. Both chambers are dominated by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's ruling party.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2015 opened the door to the recreational use of marijuana in Mexico.

But it is still illegal to carry more than five grams (0.18 ounces), which would increase to 28 grams under the proposed law.

Up to eight plants would be allowed to be grown at home for personal consumption.

Pro-legalization activist Genlizzie Garibay said that although Mexico is "entering the discussion late," the law is "a step forward" for society, producers and consumers.

But she described it as an "elitist law... written from fear, stigma and positions of power."

- Fines and arrests -

Activists are concerned that cannabis would remain on the list of prohibited substances under the health law, and would not be decriminalized for possession of more than 28 grams.

"The production and sale will be legal, but possession will still be subject to the threat of police action, fines and possible arrests," said Sanchez.

"It does not solve one of the main problems in Mexico: the misuse of security and justice resources," she added.

The reform can also be an obstacle for farmers from marginalized and poor areas from entering the legal business, activists say.

They warn that labeling, production and seed requirements are standard for established companies, but not for traditional producers.

Legalization also risks a backlash from drug cartels who control the lucrative illegal trade.

In 2020, Mexican authorities seized 244 tons of marijuana.

Lopez Obrador sees the legalization of some drugs as a way to improve security in a country plagued by drug-related violence.

More than 300,000 people have been murdered since the government deployed the army to fight the cartels in 2006.