What we could Learn from Mexico about Marijuana Policy

Mexico Presents logo FINMexican lawmakers this week launched a national debate on a topic that officials around the world have been struggling to address: marijuana legalization.

Over the next three weeks, the Mexican Congress is holding a series of public hearings on whether and how to regulate marijuana. The discussions will range from specific—such as how should marijuana’s potency be classified—to broad issues such as the effects of marijuana prohibition on public safety.

If not outright legalization, the exercise is likely to result in policy changes, which may include regulating medicinal pot and lifting the maximum amount of the drug that users can carry without facing jail time.

The debate is taking place ahead of a special United Nations summit on drug policy, UNGASS 2016, the first of its kind in nearly two decades. The April conference was called for by the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala—all countries battered by the drug trade. Marijuana legalization will likely be a topic of discussion.

Legalizing marijuana is hardly a revolutionary trend. The drug’s consumption has been sanctioned in places like Holland for more than two decades. Uruguay and four US states, as well as the District of Colombia, have also legalized recreational marijuana. Plus, medicinal programs exist throughout the United States.

Still, many politicians on the federal level remain reluctant to confront the issue.

Mexican officials were forced into the conversation after an unprecedented Supreme Court ruling last November, which declared the recreational use of marijuana a personal freedom and the laws prohibiting it unconstitutional.

Mexico’s departments of interior and health are organizing their own public assemblies on pot, which started Jan. 26 in Cancun, and will be held in four other cities over the next three months. Anyone with an opinion is invited to participate.

But some say those debates are more charade than real discussion, given that President Enrique Peña Nieto, who called for them, has already said he’s not in favor of legalization. A group of influential academics and other proponents of liberalizing Mexico’s drug laws, including SMART and Madrazo, have refused to participate, saying in a letter to the president that they are worried the forum is an excuse to delay acting on what the Supreme Court already ruled.

Nonetheless, it is inspiring to see Mexican officials engaged in a discussion about marijuana. We only hope their counterparts to the North will do the same.