The Journey Towards Legalization of Cannabis in Mexico

“The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”


With recent legalizations of cannabis in Canada, Uruguay, and parts of the United States, it appears another country of the American continent is following suit. In recent years, a series of gradual measures have been taken towards the legalization of cannabis in Mexico. In 2015, the Federal High Court of Mexico declared that the prohibition of acts related to the recreational consumption of cannabis was unconstitutional. However, this declaration by itself was not enough to legalize cannabis because, according to the Mexican law, the court must reach the same conclusion five times before its ruling has a binding effect. It took the court three more years to reach this threshold, but it finally occurred this October. Subsequently, all lower courts will now be forced to resolve cases in the same way.

This resolution has generated pressure in the legislature, and proposals have been made to legalize the consumption of cannabis and related activities in full. The most important proposal has been the one presented by Senator Olga Sánchez Cordero, who currently serves as Minister of Domestic Affairs under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Following the 2015 court ruling that allowed the medicinal and scientific use of cannabis, this proposal legalizes the self-consumption, production, and commercial trade of cannabis. The proposal of Olga Sánchez is expected to pass, as she belongs to the ruling party in Congress and the measure has the support of the president.

Furthermore, the existing regulations on marijuana are confusing and even contradictory. The courts have allowed the consumption of marijuana, but the main mechanisms that consumers use to obtain the drug (i.e. commerce, supply, and distribution) are still illegal. The right to the free development of personality, established in the Mexican constitution, has been the main mechanism of legalization. In Mexico, this right guarantees citizens are able to use their power as an individual to decide if they want to consume any substance that does not present serious health risks to themselves or others. Nevertheless, the extent to which this right is sought is as limited as the possibility of acquiring the necessary product to exercise it. Therefore, a prohibition on the functioning of the cannabis industry is also a limitation on this right.

The proposal of Olga Sánchez fills the legal gap left by the Federal High Court and allows citizens to broadly exercise their right to the free development of personality. To enable the commercial, pharmaceutical, and industrial use of cannabis, this initiative first aims to establish a General Law for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis will be created as well, functioning as a decentralized agency of the Ministry of Health. It will be in charge of observing the correct fulfillment of the law in this matter.

However, there are still kinks in the proposed policy. One of the most controversial articles of the proposal is Article 39, which establishes that “Cannabis smoking is permitted in public spaces, with the exception of spaces 100% free of tobacco smoke”[1]. This means that it will be possible to consume marijuana anywhere tobacco is allowed, which includes open public spaces, such as squares, parks, and streets. Many in Mexico see this as an issue because it increases the risks to which third parties could be exposed. On the other hand, Article 40 has been considered too restrictive because it establishes that “the sale of Cannabis and products derived from it for adult use will be limited to specific establishments, which exclusively sell Cannabis, its derivatives and its accessories”[2]. This means that, if your enterprise sells unrelated products, it cannot also sell cannabis. While this article may not be so controversial in other countries, this has faced some criticism in Mexico. Considering the serious national problem of drug-related violence, it’s important that the cannabis does not fall into the hands of drug traffickers, but citizens who obey the law. In order to achieve this, products, which do not generate negative effects when combined with marijuana, could be allowed to accompany the sale of cannabis.

The decriminalization of marijuana is more important in Mexico than in any other countries because it not only respects the right to the free development of personality but also offers hope to decrease the violence that ravages the country. The Mexican Drug War has generated more than 250,000 causalities since beginning in 2006[3]. Additionally, 2017 witnessed the most homicides in the history of the country. The approval of this initiative (with modifications) would make Mexico the third country to completely legalize the use of marijuana. More importantly, if it succeeds in reducing drug violence, it would be a respite for Mexicans that have suffered for decades from the brutalities of deadly drug cartels.


[1] Sánchez Olga, Iniciativa con Proyecto de Decreto por el que se expide la Ley General para la Regulación y Control del Cannabis, available in: Reviewed on December 9, 2018

[2] Sánchez Olga, Iniciativa con Proyecto de Decreto por el que se expide la Ley General para la Regulación y Control del Cannabis, available in: Reviewed on December 9, 2018

[3] The Guardian, Mexico’s monthly murder rate reaches 20-year high, available in: Reviewed on December 9, 2018

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Emiliano is a second-year student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy specializing in International Political Economy and International Affairs, International cooperation and development. He studied Political Science and Public Administration in the National Autonomous University of Mexico and worked as assistant professor in the same University for the subjects Theory of Public Administration I and II. His last work experience before coming to the Brandt School was in the Superior Audit of the Federation (Mexico).