On Wednesday 10 March 2021, lawmakers in Mexico approved a bill to legalise recreational marijuana, which could lead to the country becoming the world’s largest cannabis market, leaving the US stuck between two pot-selling neighbours.
The 316 to 129 vote took place in Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and came more than two years after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the country’s ban on recreational marijuana was unconstitutional, as well as more than three years after the country legalised medicinal cannabis.
On Wednesday night, the chamber approved the bill in general terms before moving on to a lengthy discussion of possible revisions introduced by individual lawmakers. In its final form, though, the measure is widely expected to get approved by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has previously signalled support for legalisation.
The news means that adults will be able to smoke marijuana and, with a permit, grow a small number of cannabis plants at home. It will also grant licenses for producers (from small farmers to commercial growers) to cultivate and sell the crop.
“With this, the false belief that cannabis is part of Mexico’s serious public health problems is left behind,” said Simey Olvera, a lawmaker with the governing Morena party. If everything goes to plan, Mexico would join Canada and Uruguay in a small but growing list of countries that have legalised marijuana in the Americas, potentially adding further momentum to the legalisation movement in the region.
In the US, Democrats in the Senate have also promised to scrap federal prohibition of the drug this year. Speaking about this potentiality, John Walsh, director of drug policy for the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said: “North America is heading toward legalisation,” adding that “Mexico, given its size and its worldwide reputation for being damaged by the drug war, to take this step is enormously significant.”
However in Mexico, the bill’s announcement has led to division—critics say it is unlikely to change much about the country’s infamous rates of cartel-fuelled violence, and argue that it is unwelcome when nearly two-thirds of people oppose legalising marijuana, according to recent polling.
“It’s a political fad,” said Damián Zepeda Vidales, a senator with the opposition National Action Party and one of the bill’s most vocal detractors. “It’s a matter for politicians, for an elite that’s now empowered in Congress and in government that wants to impose a way of life on society.”
Security experts further agree that the law’s impact on violence will likely be minimal. With more than 15 American states having legalised marijuana, it has become a small part of the Mexican drug trafficking business, with cartels focusing on products like fentanyl and methamphetamines.
On the other side, advocates of the legalisation of marijuana say that the bill is too limited, even if it represents a symbolic breakthrough in the push to end a drug war that has cost an estimated 150,000 lives, according to the Council on Foreign Relations and as reported by The New York Times.
Of course, legalisation is an important step toward building peace in a country like Mexico, but many fear that this bill falls short of achieving that. Furthermore, while the bill instructs that small farmers and indigenous people be given priority in licensing, it completely overlooks the fact that most of Mexico’s farmers have grown marijuana for decades and often end up in the middle of conflicts between cartels.
This means that, without additional state policies to tackle organised crime, particularly in areas where marijuana is grown, such requirements may not have a meaningful impact for farmers. That being said, many Mexican entrepreneurs are excited about the news. With more than 120 million people, the country would represent the largest marijuana market in the world by population.
Marijuana could therefore easily become big business in Mexico, a potential financial lift for an economy badly hit by the COVID-19 crisis. But here again, another issue could appear—activists fear that the law will favour large corporations, giving them access to the entire marijuana supply chain (from seed to sale), and leaving small-scale producers out of the lucrative market.
The bill will allow individual users to carry up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow six cannabis plants at home. Cannabis will also be available for purchase by adults aged over 18 at authorised businesses, and grown at larger scale by licensed groups. Medical marijuana, which Mexico legalised in 2017, will be regulated separately by the health ministry.
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Tomorrow is not just any other Monday, it’s Monday 20 April. Whether you are a marijuana user or not, there are strong chances that you know what 4/20, also spelled 420 or 4 20, means: it’s the unofficial holiday celebrated by potheads who come together to, well, smoke pot. But even weed enthusiasts out there are not all aware of why they wait for 4:20 to light a blunt in the afternoon (or in the morning, I’m not judging). Why was this particular number chosen? Where did 420 come from and what does it stand for?
There are different theories about the origin of 420 but no one seems to be entirely sure of which one is true. Ever heard that 420 is police code for possession? Or maybe that it is the penal code for marijuana use? Well, both of these are false. The California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana was actually named specifically for the code, not the other way around, which means that even our governments are linking the number 420 to marijuana use.
Another theory states that there are 420 active chemicals in marijuana, hence the connection between the drug and the number. But according to the Dutch Association for Legal Cannabis and Its Constituents as Medicine (NCSM), there are more than 500 active ingredients in marijuana, and only about 70 or so are cannabinoids unique to the plant. This rules this one out as well.
A subreddit on ‘trees’ speculates that the earliest written link between marijuana and 420 comes from H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling’s short story In the Walls of Eryx published in 1939: “Although everything was spinning perilously, I tried to start in the right direction and hack my way ahead. My route must have been far from straight, for it seemed hours before I was free of the mirage-plant’s pervasive influence. Gradually the dancing lights began to disappear, and the shimmering spectral scenery began to assume the aspect of solidity. When I did get wholly clear I looked at my watch and was astonished to find the time was only 4:20. Though eternities had seemed to pass, the whole experience could have consumed little more than a half-hour.”
Many believe that the holiday came out of a ritual started by a group of high school students in California during the 1970s. According to Steven Hager, a former editor of the marijuana-focused news outlet High Times, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael used to meet daily at 4:20 to smoke weed after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, they used to tell each other ‘420 Louie’, meaning, ‘Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke’.
As many still stipulated on whether this story was true or not, the group of Californians mentioned before who call themselves the Waldos published documents in order to give this theory some legitimacy. Screen Shot spoke to one of the Waldos, Steve Capper, about why people seem to still doubt the origin of the term: “Many people have their own ideas and fantasies about friends and relatives who supposedly started ‘420’. The Waldos have created a whole culture of fake 420 claimers. The one thing that all these doubters have in common is not one shred of proof to their claims which might create doubt on their side.”
Capper certified that the Waldos are the only group of people with documented proof of their claims, which has been looked at by experts and international media and kept “in a vault in San Francisco at 420 Montgomery Street.”
Whatever its origins, 4/20 has become a very important holiday for weed smokers. As soon as the saying caught on and the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, what was a simple code shared between a few stoners became the worldwide event for smokers that it is today. Originally a counterculture holiday to protest the social and legal stigmas against marijuana, 420 has also become the perfect opportunity for businesses and corporations to cash in on marijuana culture.
This year, those of you who looked forward to celebrating 420 with other marijuana enthusiasts will have to settle for a solo sesh at home. So get your laptop out, log in on your Zoom account, close your door and get ready to smoke it up, self-isolation style.