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What is the Status of Cannabis Legalization in Mexico?

Mexico legalized medical cannabis — but it’s still not legal.

To understand where cannabis legalization in Mexico stands today, let’s first take a look at the history of cannabis regulation in the country.

Timeline of Mexican Cannabis Policy 

Mexico made international headlines in 2015, when the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ruled that consuming adult-use cannabis is a fundamental human right. The SCJN effectively decriminalized cannabis three years later, declaring most penalties for possession unconstitutional. The ruling did not “legalize” cannabis in Mexico as many originally believed. Rather, it instructed lawmakers to pass legislation to regulate it. Unfortunately, Mexico’s Congress has –after numerous attempts– failed to do so.  

In Mexico’s federal legislature, the issue of cannabis legalization is divisive. Progressive and conservative legislators have battled over whether, and how, to legalize cannabis. Last year, the Chamber of Deputies of Mexico (akin to the U.S. House of Representatives) passed a bill to legalize the production of cannabis for industrial, medical and adult-use purposes. But it was rejected in the Mexican Senate. The new legislative period began in September, a new draft bill may be introduced in the Senate this December.

Status of Medical Cannabis in Mexico

In 2017, then-President Enrique Peña Nieto legalized medical cannabis, but it wasn’t until 2021 that Mexico’s health ministry published rules to regulate its use. The SCJN also ordered the Mexican Congress to create a legal framework for cannabis consumers. But that hasn’t happened. 

The policy gap and absence of a regulated market in Mexico has made it almost impossible for cannabis patients to safely access legal cannabis. Margarita Garfias, a disabilities rights advocate in Mexico, has been at the forefront of this cause. Her son Carlos, has been battling refractory epilepsy all his life. In 2019, she won an amparo, a court order from the SCJN mandating the executive branch to regulate medical cannabis. 

Despite this progress, cannabis patients in Mexico have experienced two major setbacks: The cannabis products provided by the federal government are not an effective treatment for children with epilepsy and other conditions. And high prices in Mexico have pushed caregivers to buy cheaper medicine in other countries.  

The Path to Legal Adult-Use Cannabis in Mexico 

At the beginning of his term in 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) compiled a list of 25 legislative priorities to guide his administration. Cannabis legalization was not on it. As a matter of fact, he opposes the legalization of adult-use cannabis legalization, calling it  “immoral.” It is unlikely that any progress on legalization will happen during his presidency.

So when can we expect cannabis legalization in Mexico? 

Leading up to the 2024 presidential election, advocates continue to push for reform now, looking ahead to the next administration. As the  MORENA party continues its stronghold across the country – 21 governorships out of Mexico’s 32 states – a MORENA presidential win is likely. 

With more than 131 million people, Mexico is set to become the world’s largest legal cannabis market by population. Not only would medical patients benefit enormously from a regulated cannabis market in Mexico, so too would farmers, who have been the neglected backbone of the unregulated industry. A legal market would represent a huge economic opportunity for them.

What’s Next? 

According to the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, cannabis legalization in Mexico would allow people to travel the entire West Coast of North America, from the arctic circle in Canada, to the Mexican border with Guatemala, without leaving a legal cannabis jurisdiction.” 

Will Mexico become the third country in the world to legalize cannabis? The next few years will be an opportunity for advocates, activists and stakeholders to make the case for what a regulated domestic cannabis market would look like in the country. They will play an important role in educating legislators about safe, equitable and sustainable cannabis policies. It is only a matter of time for Mexico to legalize cannabis. It must also be a matter of patience.

Cannabis Policy Challenges Shared by Uruguay, Canada and the U.S.

When I began my professional journey in the cannabis industry and started learning about the plant, the words “Uruguay” and “Canada” would inevitably come up in my Google searches. That’s not surprising. Uruguay is a worldwide pioneer in cannabis legalization, having done it for adult-use in 2013. Just a few years later, Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis at the federal level.

Three years after that first Google search, I traveled to Toronto to attend the Lift & Co. Expo, meet with a delegation from Uruguay and participate in a meeting with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Cannabis Policy Council. Uruguay, Canada and the United States share a number of similar legal cannabis policy challenges as they advance their respective industries. Here are just a few of them. 

Cannabis Advertising 

Reasonable cannabis advertising regulation is critical to a well-functioning legal cannabis market. It can also contribute to a country’s economic development, public safety, and industry-wide professionalization. Overly restrictive and unnecessary advertising rules for the legal cannabis industry are currently in place in all three countries.

Uruguayan law forbids all forms of commercial advertising of cannabis products, brands and services. Cannabis advertising regulations in the U.S. vary according to individual state laws, creating a regulatory environment across the country that is inconsistent for consumers and businesses. Further, because cannabis is illegal at the federal level in the U.S., cannabis businesses are prohibited from advertising in national newspapers and magazines, as well as on the radio, television, and other forms of advertising subject to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.

Strict restrictions for cannabis advertising in Canada have had a huge impact on both businesses and consumers. One-third of cannabis consumers are unable to recognize the brand behind the product they are buying because the packaging is predominantly warning labels. That prevents legal cannabis brands from establishing brand awareness and recognition – a significant impediment to their bottom-line success.

Note: For more information on cannabis advertising in the U.S., check out Responsible Advertising & Branding in the Cannabis Industry from WM Policy. 

Product Diversification 

A diverse offering of cannabis products is an opportunity for businesses to reach a wider spectrum of consumers and enhance profitability. Uruguay has far fewer products in development or in the market than Canada and the U.S. That’s because the Uruguayan government only allows cultivation of two cannabis strains capped at 9% THC for commercial purposes. 

In Canada, all licensed retailers must offer the same products to customers, making it impossible for retailers to differentiate themselves from their competitors. This is particularly concerning in a big city like Toronto, where the proliferation of retailers has created a highly-competitive market. With a density of cannabis stores and products, what sets one dispensary apart from the rest? 

Product diversification can also push greater representation in the cannabis industry. The U.S, for example, has seen a surge of new brands founded and run by people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community. 

Banking and Financial Services

Access to traditional financial services is a constraint shared by cannabis businesses in all three countries. In Uruguay, cash is the only form of payment permitted for cannabis purchases and banking services to cannabis businesses are prohibited since the industry is considered a “high risk.” 

Canada faces a similar situation, where basic financial services such as a checking account remain unavailable to business owners, even three years post-cannabis legalization. Canadian national banks steer clear of the industry, particularly those operating  internationally in countries where cannabis is still not legal. 

The federal government’s cannabis policies are the main reason preventing U.S. cannabis businesses from accessing banking services. According to industry reports, about 70 percent of U.S. cannabis businesses lack bank accounts. As long as cannabis remains listed as a Schedule I substance, the majority of business owners will continue to tackle unfavorable situations such as paying their employees with cash and being a target for robbery

Ultimately, there are unique opportunities for cannabis policy development that unite Uruguay, Canada and the U.S. Who would think that these three countries can be so connected on cannabis issues, despite being geographically located on opposite ends of the Western Hemisphere. It is a small world after all, and I’m confident that cannabis will continue to bring more countries together.