Mexico Set to Become World’s Largest Legal Cannabis Market

MEXICO CITY-Mexico is home to the world’s most powerful drug cartels, which have terrorized the country for years. But the country is willing to try something different in the fight against gangs by legalizing at least one of their products, marijuana.

Mexico is on the verge of becoming the world’s largest legal cannabis market when Congress completes legislation to legalize marijuana throughout the value chain, from cultivation to distribution and consumption, in the coming weeks.

At the end of November, the Mexican Senate passed a bill to legalise marijuana for recreational use. Lawmakers in the lower house say they will pass the bill by February, although they want to increase the amount of pot that consumers can have in public property beyond the 28-gram limit set by the Senate, which is about one ounce.

Right now you can own up to five grams of marijuana in Mexico without being arrested. The use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal since 2017.

We are committed to regulating cannabis. It’s Mexican law, he says.

Ignacio Ant,

Leader of the majority in the House of Representatives of the Mexican Parliament and member of the Presidency.

Andres Manuel López Obrador.

Morena’s party at the interview.'s-Biggest-Legal-Cannabis-Market.5.jpeg

Senators in Mexico City celebrate 19 November: approval of a bill to legalise the recreational use of cannabis.


jose pazos fabian/EPA/Shutterstock

In 2018, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the ban on marijuana was unconstitutional. The court intervened after a number of law firms filed a lawsuit. A group even took possession of a small park for the Mexican Senate and planted about 800 cannabis plants to put pressure on legislators. The activists harvest and smoke buds regularly.

More said legislators and senators will work together in January to agree on a joint bill to be voted on in both houses.

The changes in the law would make Mexico the third country in the world to legalize cannabis for recreational use nationally, after Uruguay and Canada, and the largest country with a potential consumer market of 88 million adults.

Mexico’s legalization would more than double the number of people with access to legal marijuana worldwide, which would boost legalization efforts around the world, he said.

Maritza Perez,

Director of the Office of National Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance, a U.S. group advocating legalization.

Now that Canada and Mexico will have legal cannabis, it is likely to put pressure on the United States to follow suit, she said.

Fifteen American states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, including California and Illinois. Oregon recently became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of hard drugs, even heroin and cocaine.'s-Large-Legal-Cannabis-Market.5.jpeg

A Mexican soldier participated in the destruction of an illegal marijuana plantation in the state of Sinaloa in October 2019.


Rashless Brotherhood France-Presse/Getty Images

Officials expect that the legalization of recreational use in Mexico will lead to more competition, lower prices and a reduction in the black market for drug gangs. The government estimates that about 200 organized crime groups are active in Mexico, where about 270,000 people have been killed since 2006, mostly by cartel-related violence.

However, many analysts argue that legalization will have only a marginal impact on drug gangs. Cannabis currently accounts for only a small proportion of gang revenues, with cocaine, synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and petrol theft being the main sources of income. The cartels also resorted to large-scale extortion of small companies throughout Mexico.

Marijuana seizures at the US-Mexico border have decreased by about 83% compared to the fiscal year 2015, indicating that marijuana is a declining activity for Mexican cartels, partly due to a growing legal market north of the border.

Anyone who thinks this legislation will be a magic bullet that will reduce crime and murder is overly optimistic.

Alejandro Hope,

Security analyst and former intelligence officer. According to Hope and others, the only real chance for Mexico to fight cartels is the establishment of competent police forces, which the country has not been able to do.

The Mexican army has been heavily involved since 2006, when it attacked the increasingly powerful cartels. At that time, the number of murders increased as rival gangs fought each other and the security forces.

Anyone who thinks this legislation will be a magic bullet that will reduce crime and murder is overly optimistic.

– Alejandro Hope, security analyst and former intelligence officer.

Mexico’s decision to legalize marijuana is part of a wider movement of countries trying new approaches to tackle the abuse of harmful drugs by users and the networks that supply them. In recent decades, this policy has focused almost exclusively on a law enforcement approach, imprisoning drug users and trying to disrupt global illicit drug trafficking chains.

Portugal, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Argentina, Costa Rica and Mexico have introduced a form of decriminalisation for the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. This has reduced the transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases, as well as the number of overdose deaths, said Perez of the Drug Policy Alliance.'s-Largest-Legal-Cannabis-Market.5.jpeg

A camp with cannabis activists in front of the Senate building in Mexico City in September.


alfredo estrella/Agent France-Presse/Getty Images

Activists say the current bill does not go far enough to create a legal industry that can compete effectively with the cartels.

According to the Senate bill, users can own up to 28 grams of marijuana in public and grow up to eight plants per household. Possession of more than 28 grams is punishable by a fine and possession of more than 200 grams is punishable by imprisonment.

Companies and individuals will be able to produce, distribute, sell, export and import cannabis in accordance with the strict guidelines and licenses established by the new regulator, a process that is expected to be lengthy and costly.

The Senate bill provides for an over-regulated market that will inevitably make it more expensive for legitimate sellers and more difficult for them to compete in the illegal market, he said.

Juan Francisco Torres Landa,

Lawyer of Hogan Lovells who fought for years for the legalization of marijuana in Mexico. This over-regulation also makes the whole process vulnerable to government corruption.'s-Large-Legal-Cannabis-Market.5.jpeg

Pepe Rivera, a Mexican cannabis activist, smokes in December for the Senate among marijuana plants.


Jose Mendez/EPA/Shutterstock

That’s why lawmakers in the House of Commons want to increase the amount of cannabis that consumers can own to 200 grams and make it easier and faster to obtain licenses for the production and sale of cannabis, according to Meer. They also oppose the creation of a new regulatory agency and want the Ministry of Health to issue licences instead.

Meanwhile, the two dozen activists occupying the park in front of the Mexican Senate say they won’t leave. Their makeshift camp consists of several tents, a kitchen and a bathroom connected to the city’s sewage system. A small cannabis museum will be built with thick shelves.

Activists are in talks with local authorities to turn the park into a permanent marijuana culture centre, said.

Pepe Rivera,

one of the activists.

We do not accept any restrictions on our right to freely harvest and consume, Rivera said recently while walking through marijuana bushes. If you don’t need a license to drink as much alcohol as you want, why should we accept a restriction on our right to smoke marijuana?

Changes and additions
Cannabis activists harvest marijuana for the Mexican Senate and smoke the buds. An earlier version of this article wrongly claimed that they smoked leaves. (Adjusted for 29 December 2020)

Email Juan Montes at [email protected].

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