Mexico recently delayed passing a measure to legalize marijuana and hemp last week, again pushing back passing a final cannabis law in the country. This delay, coming as a response to the Coronavirus, follows an earlier 6-month extension from October 2019. Now, Mexican lawmakers are expected to revisit the topic at the next legislative session scheduled to begin September 1 and end December 15.
Should Mexico officially cross the legalization hurdle later this year during that fall session, it will become the world’s most populous country to do so with 130 million residents, compared to Canada’s 37.6 million and Uruguay’s 3.5 million residents. The U.S., while more populous, has only legalized hemp at the federal level, not cannabis as a whole. Marijuana is still regulated on a primarily state-by-state basis, with 33 currently allowing for medical marijuana and just 11 for recreational use by those over the age of 21.
The recent measure proposed in Mexico included all forms of cannabis under one umbrella, regardless of THC content, instead of trying to piecemeal together different regulations for hemp versus marijuana types of cannabis. However, Hemp and CBD would be exempt from certain regulations that apply to high-THC products. Mexico’s legalization proposal also included cannabis possession/cultivation for people over 18 years of age, public consumption rules, and personal possession up to 1 ounce. It also carries a proposed 12 percent tax rate.
As Mexico continues to keep the cannabis conversation on the table, we’re going to examine a bit about the history of cannabis in Mexico, and how they got here.
A tale of two prohibitions
We know confusion about cannabis was a factor in it becoming illegal in the U.S., and that immigration concerns also played an important role in its history. But this sort of history of legal prohibition and general demonization of cannabis happened on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border.
“The history of these kinds of regulations is way more similar between Mexico and the U.S. than different,” says historian Isaac Campos, author of Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs. “One of the really important things people often presume is that Mexicans have had a more tolerant attitude towards cannabis than Americans, and that’s just not the case.”
Cannabis is believed to have been brought to Mexico by Pedro Cuadrado, a Spanish conquistador who accompanied Hernán Cortés to Mexico in the 1500s. Cuadrado is believed to have primarily cultivated hemp for rope. Smoking cannabis was not a common recreational activity in Mexico, except in certain environments like prisons and soldiers’ barracks being noted starting about 1840.
This may actually have impacted the negative sentiment that started to develop toward cannabis in Mexico in the late 19th century. In fact, the Mexican government actually outlawed all recreational production, sale and use of marijuana in 1920, prior to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 and eventual passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which were the real initiation factors for strongly enforced cannabis regulations in the U.S.
Interestingly enough, because of the few formal U.S. regulations on cannabis prior to 1930, historian Campos found evidence that Mexicans were crossing the border into the U.S., buying cannabis in pharmacies, and taking it back to Mexico. “The smuggling was going in the other direction at that time because many states in Mexico had already prohibited it,” he theorizes.
So, with cannabis prohibition in Mexico dating back as early as 1920, why the move toward legalization now?
While cannabis has remained illegal in Mexico from the 1920s and 1930s up through recently, there were some major legislation shifts starting in 2015, when Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled 4:1 that citizens should be allowed to grow and consume cannabis. In 2018, the court followed up to rule cannabis prohibition unconstitutional for Mexico.
With those rulings in place, the move became toward full-on legalization. While a promising set of regulations were revealed last fall, Mexican lawmakers missed the deadline to submit that legislation in 2019.
Which brings us to May 2020: the recent delay on the vote to legalize cannabis. Due to COVID-19, the vote on cannabis has again been delayed until at least the fall legislative session, but it’s worth noting the points it would have included:
- Possession of up to 28 grams and cultivation for adults 18 and older for recreational use.
- Permission for individuals to apply to possess more than 28 but not more than 200 grams.
- Possession of 200+ grams decriminalized.
- A 12 percent tax on cannabis sales, with some revenue going toward a substance misuse treatment fund.
- Public consumption, except in designated smoke-free spaces.
- Hemp and CBD are exempt from regulations that apply to high-THC products.
The May 2020 bill was similar to what the committee presented last October, but included certain key changes, such as establishing five different kinds of licenses: cultivation, transformation, marketing, exports and imports, and research.
While the vote to fully legalize and establish regulations for cannabis in Mexico is now pushed back until at least the fall because of COVID-19, some in Mexico are touting the plant as a potential relief for the impacts from the virus. We’ll check back in during the fall session to give you an update.