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Can Legal Cannabis Alleviate Poverty and Crime in Mexico?

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

Many Mexican government officials push for marijuana legalization –or as they call it, “decriminalization”. Among them are Marcelo Ebrard, the future Minister of Exterior Relations of president-elect López Obrador, and Enrique de la Madrid, current Secretary of Tourism. During a visit to Quebec, Ebrard stated that legalization was a strong possibility for the near future and an important factor to decrease drug-trafficking violence in Mexico City. For the Minister of Tourism, as he stated recently to Reuters, it is a question of decreasing rampant drug gang violence in Baja California and Quintana Roo. Moreover, funds allocated to prosecution of cannabis users in these regions could be better used to prosecute crime and violence. As an added benefit, it stands to alleviate prison overcrowding. It would also help, among others, Mexican cannabis farmers whose main market was the U.S. and have been hurt by the U.S.’s expanding legal cannabis market.

Mexico is a federation; therefore, different states have different legal systems, and what is legal in Mexico City is not necessarily so in Chiapas, for instance. In general, small amounts for personal use were decriminalized in 2009 and the most popular legalization proposal would allow Mexican citizens to carry up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational use, as well as to allow its commercialization. Although personal use is allowed in some cases, there are restrictions such as it not being allowed for use in public, in the presence of minors, and other applicable rules.

Moreover, according to supporters, legalization of marijuana in Mexico would provide ample opportunities for economic growth. It is also important to note that the push for legalization comes in tandem with a ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of poppy cultivation. The president-elect of Mexico, Manuel López Obrador, not only supports the cannabis legalization, but also of poppy cultivation for pharmaceuticals.

What would this mean for Mexican farmers? Besides opening new local markets for the illicit cannabis farmer-exporters mentioned above—and for whom legalization would open doors to legitimacy--it would also help those farmers in Mexico harmed by international trade agreements that did away with import tariffs and, in consequence, flooded its markets with cheap corn and other agricultural products. The phenomena of increased competition by U.S. cannabis markets for unregulated Mexican cannabis farmers from the border states of Mexico, and the trade agreements that led to the impoverishment of many Mexican farmers, are factors that push Mexican nationals migrate to other regions of Mexico--and to the U.S.-- in search for work.

Allowing the legal cultivation of poppy and cannabis for medical use and eventually, for recreation, would open a new market for farmers, commerce and industry, and potentially decrease migration to the north since the reasons most cited for migration are poverty and violence. Poppy cultivation, for instance, is concentrated in nine states, most of these bordering with the United States and considered among the poorest in the nation. In just one of these, the state of Guerrero, over 1200 entire villages survive through the unregulated cultivation of poppy, according to a recent Bloomberg Report (June 2018). Based upon satellite surveillance, experts calculate that approximately 60 thousand acres of poppy were cultivated in Mexico during 2017.

The situation of cultivation and commercialization in Mexico is complicated, since its actual sale and distribution is still prohibited, but personal consumption is allowed. Also forbidden is any kind of advertising related to cannabis and its derivatives. However, Mexico has already authorized the cultivation, preparation, transportation and possession of cannabis for medical purposes. As long as the caps on THC levels are respected, the use of cannabis derivatives will be allowed too. As of April 2018, the Mexican government had received over 450 requests for permits for cannabis cultivation for recreational use, of which 4 were licensed. The rest were either denied or are awaiting review. It is expected that as soon as president-elect López Obrador, a notedly progressive statesman, takes over, wider legalization measures will be passed and many new licenses issued.

About the Author:

Trudy Mercadal, Ph.D

New Orleans born with a Latina background, I am a writer, social historian & cultural studies researcher with a doctorate in Comparative Studies. My focus on community and popular culture. Main interests are the ways in which people express identity through arts—such as music, graffiti, and magazines—and their consuming practices, that is, the what (and how) they buy, ingest, eat, and wear. In my personal life, I am a dedicated urban mini-farmer and, also, a certified cheesemaker who makes a truly kick-ass grilled cheese sandwich.