Mexico has the reputation of a nation that has been badly damaged by violent cartels and drug trafficking. Some have suggested legalization, and for cannabis, at least, that process may be beginning. Reuters reports that Mexico will legalize the import and sale of marijuana products in early 2018.
The report indicates that the new regulations will allow the import and legal sale of “marijuana-based medicines, foods, drinks, cosmetics and other products.”
Before you get your hopes up too high, realize that Mexico is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a medical-use only nation. Mexico does not permit recreational marijuana.
Further, the laws still ban the sale of flower — the pure marijuana plant itself — and only allows for infused products intended for medical use. For the time being, these items will have to be imported to Mexico from other legal nations willing to ship the product over national borders.
According to Reuters, Mexican Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios–COFEPRIS) Arturo Tornel “expects distributors and retailers to import the items, with some companies eventually producing items in Mexico using marijuana grown abroad. The regulation does not apply to sales of pure marijuana.”
All marijuana products would initially be imported, as Mexico currently has no legal framework for the cultivation, transport, or sale of medical marijuana. Leafly speculates in their report on medical marijuana sales in Mexico that, “Although Tornel did not specifically mention any source nations, the most likely country of origin for those infused products would be Canada. In the past year, Canadian licensed medical cannabis producers have begun exporting product to Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia, Chile, and Brazil.”
The United States cannot legally export marijuana to Mexico, as the drug remains federally illegal and cannot be transported across state or national borders.
Marijuana legalization in Mexico has been a far more contentious topic in Mexico than other North American countries Canada and the United States. Mexican cartels have been responsible for an estimated 140,000 murders over the last ten years. Exporting of marijuana has remained a major source of income for these cartels, despite cannabis legalization sweeping across its neighbours to the north.
But there has been a broad trend toward medical marijuana legalization in Central and South America. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Puerto Rico have all legalized medical marijuana in recent years. Uruguay, meanwhile, legalized recreational cannabis in 2013.
Mexico passed its medical marijuana regulations in June 2017. This follows a 2015 Mexican Supreme Court ruling that allowed four people to grow and use their own medicinal marijuana, and then a directive this summer from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto ordering COFEPRIS to develop a framework for medical marijuana regulations.
Newsweek reports that the Mexican congress strongly supported medical marijuana in a separate vote. “The move was backed by an overwhelming majority of 371 members of the lower house of Congress, with only 19 politicians voting against the bill,” Newsweek’s Christina Zhou wrote in a joint report with Reuters. “In addition, the policy required the Ministry of Health to develop a research program to study the drug’s impact before any broader policies were considered.”
Mexican law does allow for low-THC industrial hemp. In their report on Mexico’s passage of medical marijuana, The Independent noted that “It also establishes that industrial products with concentrations of 1% THC or less would be legal to buy, sell, import and export.”
Mexico has lagged behind the U.S. and Canada in adopting medical marijuana, in large part because of Mexico’s disproportionately high Catholic population. And the Catholic Church has been very vocally opposed to even medicinal marijuana, and let the country know it when the Mexican Supreme Court passed their 2015 ruling permitting limited use of medical marijuana.
“For the Church, this is a serious decision and an incredibly irresponsible decision that follows certain fads, a certain mentality of individual freedom superior to social well-being,” Archdiocese of Mexico City spokesperson Father Hugo Valdemar Romero told the Catholic Herald at the time. “The big worry is that it’s a debate that should take place in Congress, where citizens are represented, and not in an arbitrary decision, in a decision making it appear the court has turned into a super-national power that decides things [that] go beyond what the legislators representing the population can.”
Medicinal marijuana polled poorly in Mexico at the time, with a whopping 77% of the country opposed to the idea. Mexico has the second-highest Catholic population in the world, according to World Religion News, and a 2013 Pew Research poll found that 81% of Mexicans did identify as Catholics.
But much like the Catholic population, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s views on cannabis legalization have slowly evolved. Nieto himself had originally been a staunch legalization opponent, though he’s has a change of heart in recent years.
“So far, the solutions [to control drug trafficking and crime] implemented by the international community have been frankly insufficient,” Peña Nieto told a United Nations General Assembly Special Session in April 2016. “We must move beyond prohibition to effective prevention.”
Tornel tells Reuters that he expects these new medical marijuana import and sales regulations to be published within days, and products could be imported into the country roughly a months after the new rules’ approval.