Story by Michael Hagar
Mexico and cannabis have had a long and interesting relationship. During the second half of the 1800s cannabis was commonly used as a medicine that was grown, smoked, and bartered with freely in the United States and Mexico. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the term ‘marijuana’ even entered the English lexicon and was originally coined to portrait the smoking of cannabis in a negative light. After years of prohibitionist rhetoric flooding the general public, changes were made to the International Opium Convention rendering cannabis, or “Indian Hemp” as referred to at the time, only importable for medical uses or scientific research. Cannabis, the once well understood and widely available beneficial herb was turned into ‘marijuana’, the Devil’s lettuce “Which Crazes Its Addicts”, to quote an old New York Times headline following the adoption of complete marijuana prohibition by Mexico in 1925. Now nearly a century later and having faced a plethora of complications due to the “war on drugs” the current president of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto and his administration have become outspoken in regards to reforming medicinal and recreational marijuana laws in Mexico.
While speaking at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs 2016, or UNGASS, the president of Mexico proceeded to turn some heads with a number of statements regarding the war on drugs beginning with, “Mexico has had more people disappear than Argentina and Chile together during their whole military regimes…We’ve had more Mexicans die in the drug war than the US has had in Afghanistan and Iraq together. It’s unreal. There’s no way you can justify that kind of human cost.” and then goes even further to suggest that, “The growing legalization movement in the US and the success that movement has had in places like Washington, Colorado and so on, has made Mexicans question what the wisdom is of fighting the war on marijuana when the US has thrown in the towel…” Considering all data regarding the war on drugs indicates it has been a complete failure in both the United States and Mexico this comes as a sobering and welcome realization from president Nieto. He also stated that drug consumption should be considered a “public health problem” vs a ‘criminal problem’, echoing the words of United States Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Medicinal marijuana production, use and distribution are all illegal under current Mexican law and as a result there are hundreds of thousands of potentially benefiting individuals who have been forced to seek relief underground. This phenomenon recently led Vice News to run an article which highlighted Mexican citizens using anonymous clandestine workshops, the internet, and word of mouth to treat epilepsy, nausea, and side effects of chemo in cases of cancer.
These clandestine sessions taught participants how to prepare cannabis in a number of forms including coconut oil, ointments, drops, solvent based extracts such as butane honey oil, etc. However helpful, under current law this practice is technically illegal and could lead to participants and organizers to be jailed. Luckily, it seems that Nieto is well aware of the potential benefits of medicinal marijuana use and recent polls show that the people of Mexico also agree.
In regards to recreational law, citizens of Mexico may currently possess up to 5 grams of useable marijuana as a ‘basic human right’ following a recent Mexican Supreme Court ruling, but under a newly proposed decriminalization bill this limit would be increased to 28g, or 1oz, and would retroactively release jailed individuals who have been previously incarcerated for possession charges below these proposed limits. Although not full legalization, these changes would render authorities more focused on distributors and black market entities rather than policing the general populace for petty crimes. However, by not pursuing a legalization model Mexico would limit its profit potentials and stifle the growth or marijuana related business as banks would have difficulty integrating their services into the market.
It’s hard to estimate how much revenue would be generated by legalizing recreational marijuana in Mexico, but it’s safe to assume somewhere in the ballpark of ‘billions of dollars’.
We can only imagine the business creation and revenue potential that legal marijuana could command if Canada, the United States, and Mexico pursued national legalization measures together. No matter what happens in the near future, it’s great to see the conversation being pushed forward and discussed rather than sweeping it under the rug while unnecessary deaths, arrests, and debts continue to pile up on both sides of the border.