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.
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.