Mexico gambles on legalising cannabis

Plan aimed at putting a dent in black market - but some fear that violence may increase

Mexican soldiers destroy a marijuana plantation near La Rumorosa town in Tecate.
Mexican soldiers destroy a marijuana plantation
(Image credit: Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images)

Mexico’s senate has approved a landmark cannabis legalisation bill in a landslide vote that paves the way for it to become the third country in the world to market the drug.

Senators voted 82 to 18 to approve the measure, with seven abstentions, marking a “major shift in a country where drug cartel violence in recent years has claimed over 100,000 lives”, Reuters reports.

In 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that recreational marijuana should be permitted, however, the new legislation means that “safe, regulated consumption” could soon become a reality, The Washington Post adds.

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The country is the first with such a strong drug-related underworld to take the step, with advocates “long arguing that legalisation would put a dent in the black market”, the paper continues.

However, supporters of the move are unsure over some of the details of the legalisation plan, with concerns that the move could “favour large corporations over small businesses and family-owned farms”, as well as “doing little to address the issues at the root of the country’s illegal drug trade”, it adds.

As The Economist notes, fears that the “jolt of legalisation could provoke gangs to behave even more violently than now” have been raised, while there has also been warnings that cutting streams of income could see “gangs diversify faster into such activities as kidnapping and cooking fentanyl”.

“I’m not sure if the initiative being pushed by Congress actually makes things better,” Julio Salazar, a senior lawyer and legalisation advocate with the non-profit group Mexico United Against Crime, told the Washington Post.

“It makes a cannabis market for the rich and continues to use criminal law to perpetuate a drug war that has damaged the poorest people with the least opportunities.”

Socially conservative President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has “shied away from publicly backing the legalisation push, but neither has he opposed it”, Reuters says. However, Lopez Obrador’s left-of-centre Morena party backs the initiative and holds a majority in both chambers of Congress.

Having passed through Congress, the legislation will now go to the lower house of Congress, meaning the creation of the largest legal cannabis market in the world could be just around the corner.

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