On June 19th, 2017, Mexico legalized medical marijuana, or more specifically, “pharmacological derivatives of cannabis” to be regulated and studied by the Ministry of Health. But, for now, Mexico’s medical cannabis market will look much different than say, California’s, which sells everything from cannabis flower to THC-infused massage oil. Currently, “cannabis derivatives” in Mexico, like oils and pills, must contain less than one percent THC. Although some activists are hopeful and working to change this conservative allotment, many believe that full cannabis legalization is what will help Mexico the most.
“This current law is so limited as to be practically useless. But we’re headed in the right direction and the attitude is changing,” says Laura Carlsen, political analyst and director of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. Here, what you need to know about Mexico’s marijuana program, and where it might go from here.
What’s legal so far?
Mexico began changing its marijuana policy in 2009 when it decriminalized the possession of up to five grams, as well as small, “personal use” amounts of cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, in an effort to treat addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal offense. Instead of jail time, those found in possession of substances are encouraged to enter treatment.
But the real change came in 2015, when eight-year-old Graciela Elizalde, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, brought medical cannabis to the public’s attention in Mexico. CBD oil helped to drastically reduce her seizures and improve her quality of life, and so she became the first Mexican medical marijuana patient after a Supreme Court ruling in her favor.
With its new law, Mexico has joined a handful of countries that have federally legalized medicinal marijuana, along with Canada, Israel, Uruguay, Puerto Rico and Germany – though notably not the United States.
The most popular Catholic newspaper in the country, Desde La Fe (From the Faith), published a couple of op-eds opposing legalization, claiming cannabis has no medicinal benefits and that the government saying so “confuses the public.” A main argument for ending marijuana prohibition in Mexico is to help curb narcotraficante (drug cartel) violence. Yet the Catholic Church believes legalization will do exactly the opposite, and ended a 2017 editorial with the line, “In our sad horizon appears a sick and violent country,” referring to a Mexico with legal weed.
Legalization in the U.S. has had a huge impact on the public perception of cannabis in Mexico. In a recent interview with Cultura Colectiva, President Enrique Peña Nieto, who was previously against legalizing marijuana, said, “I’m not ruling out that in the near future marijuana will be fully legalized in Mexico. It’s already occurring in other countries, particularly the United States.”