Mexico Decriminalises Recreational Cannabis

Another victory for smokers everywhere as Mexico decriminalises recreational marijuana. The current cannabis prohibition was called unconstitutional by Mexico’s supreme court. This comes just as North America is considering a bill to do the same thing. Whereas Mexico passed the bill 8 – 3 many are sceptical about whether or not the United States will be as supportive of the bill. So what are the new laws and how will this decriminalisation work going forward. 

What Is The New Legal Status of Cannabis in Mexico?

So cannabis has been decriminalised, this isn’t the same as legalised. There are still a good number of rules in place surrounding the use of cannabis in Mexico. To obtain cannabis Mexican citizens need to apply for a permit with the Federal Commission for Protection Against Health Risks. Once they have received their permit they can legally buy cannabis as long as they are over 18 years of age. Each citizen can possess up to 28 grams of cannabis at any one time. With the appropriate permit, citizens will also be able to cultivate their own cannabis plants. Of course, cannabis cannot be smoked in public or in front of minors. Also, it goes without saying that it is still illegal to smoke and then drive or operate heavy machinery. 

History Of Cannabis In Mexico

As the result of a long-standing drug war in the United States, Mexico has not always been favourable towards legalising cannabis. Though it has always been a present part of the country there has been a good deal of contention surrounding the topic. 

The Beginning 

Cannabis has been present in Mexico since it was introduced by the Spaniards who came to the new world with Christopher Columbus. When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in the 1800s hemp farming began to lose its popularity. This was only hemp, however, and other far stronger types of cannabis plant began to come into the country from other parts of the world. It was not abnormal for locals to grow these far more psychoactive strains. The recreational use of cannabis in Mexico spread from there and became a popular method of dealing with a variety of medical issues. 


It wasn’t until the 1920s when mass cannabis hysteria was sweeping the Americas that Mexico banned the growth, sale and consumption of cannabis. The Catholic church has a heavy presence in Mexico and therefore a good deal of sway over their concept of cannabis. As usually happens, making something relatively harmless illegal just gave way to funding significantly more sinister legal activity. As time went on Mexico became rife with cartels and other large criminal organisations that used money made from illegally growing and selling cannabis, as well as other drugs, to build empires. This created internal drug wars which ruined cities and made life dangerous for many Mexican’s. 

The First Steps

In 2009 there was a minor decriminalisation of cannabis which was intended as a way to disrupt the illegal activity of the cartels. Personal possession was decriminalised by the Mexican government. This meant that an individual could carry up to 5 grams without coming into any form of legal trouble. Though this was not a massive step, it was an important first one. Many believe that this slow build of legalisation is largely to do with the government realising that the war on drugs was doing more harm than it was good. There began to be a rash of self-defence groups that were made up of armed civilians. These groups would go up against the cartels that were destroying their towns and cities. Of course, when we start to move into vigilante justice, the government has to find a way to step in. Many politicians who were initially pro the war on drugs moved round to the other side of the argument as it became clear that the current structure was no longer working. They began to realise that the only way forward was to financially weaken the cartels by making cannabis more accessible and safer. The simplest way seemed to be decriminalising in very small quantities, and it worked. 

Medicinal Marijuana

This law paved the way towards legalising medicinal cannabis in 2017. For a cannabis product to be counted as medicinal marijuana it has to have a THC level of 1% or lower. Of course, in order to access medicinal cannabis Mexicans were required to have a referral from a doctor. As I already mentioned, the strains all had to be extremely low in THC and high in CBD to be considered therapeutic. The difference in this system is that citizens don’t have to pay for a medical marijuana card as companies that are interested in importing medicinal cannabis foot the bill and supply it to pharmacies. Of course, citizens have to purchase their medicinal cannabis from pharmacies but they don’t need to buy an expensive card or pay an import tax. 

Interestingly this 2017 bill being put through all started with a girl named Graciela Elizalde who was allowed by a judge to use medicinal cannabis to treat her severe epilepsy. It is often individual cases like this that show the necessity of using medicinal cannabis for certain issues and illnesses. This historic ruling is what paved the way for the new decriminalisation laws. 

The New Laws

We have already been over what the new law entails but what does it mean for Mexico? This is, as we discussed, not full legalisation. There are still controllable aspects that are in place to ensure the government still has full control over cannabis production and distribution. Not only the previously mentioned applications that have to be put through to the government. There are still strict rules around growing and selling, especially unlicensed, in order to avoid simply legalising cartels. If it were fully legal there is still nothing to stop criminal organisations that already exist to retain a monopoly. Instead, the government has attempted to make cannabis less valuable to criminal organisations by allowing citizens safe access to it. The hope is that this will reduce a good bit of drug-related crime and danger in Mexico. 

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Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash