The next president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is open-minded when it comes to drug policy. Though his personal stance on cannabis legalization remains relatively opaque for now, one of his key advisors who is expected to occupy a top cabinet office is all-in on ending prohibition.
López Obrador, the leftist who became president-elect in a landslide victory on Sunday, expressed openness to considering legalizing all drugs in the country during a May debate. But he’s demurred on taking a personal stance on marijuana legalization specifically.
That said, López Obrador’s pick for interior secretary during the transition, Olga Sánchez Cordero, is pushing the president-elect to end the prohibition of cannabis. Last month, the former Supreme Court official said that she would “seek the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use,” according to a translation of an AFP interview. She added that part of her involvement in the new government would be to “propose to Andrés Manuel” ending the prohibition of marijuana cultivation and recreational use.
And in new comments on Wednesday, Sánchez Cordero cited moves to legalize marijuana elsewhere as a reason that Mexico shouldn’t wait to act.
“Canada already decriminalized, and [marijuana is] decriminalized in several states of the United States. What are we thinking?” she said in the interview with W Radio. “We are going to try to move forward.”
She also said the incoming administration would consider legalizing the growth of opium poppies to be used in the production of pharmaceutical drugs, adding that the incoming administration will “have a consultation on the decriminalization of drugs.”
“The debate between justice, health and drug trade has never been led by the Mexican state,” Sánchez Cordero recently tweeted. “It has only been criminalized and fought with the hardening of sanctions, bringing mourning to thousands of families.”
El debate entre justicia, salud y comercio de drogas nunca ha sido encabezado por el Estado mexicano; sólo se ha criminalizado y combatido con el endurecimiento de sanciones, trayendo luto a miles de familias. Les comparto mi columna en @Milenio. https://t.co/NkG9dsZ38G
— Olga Sánchez Cordero (@M_OlgaSCordero) June 6, 2018
“The world war on drugs has failed,” she wrote last month in an op-ed for Milenio. “Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out.”
“Criminalizing -in any case- consumption has not been a factor that diminishes the use of narcotics.”
“The illegal obtaining of drugs creates a personal risk for users and only benefits the criminal networks because their economic and belligerent wealth is fostered… It is known that the United States is the main consumer of drugs in the world; and 23 states of 50 that make it up have [legal] cannabis markets for recreational and medicinal use. Uruguay, Switzerland and New Zealand have successfully taken the first step in opting for legalization through a responsible regulatory context, based on medical, sociological, economic and political evidence.”
(At the time of publication, 30 states in the U.S. had effectively legalized marijuana for at least medical or recreational use, and only Uruguay and Canada have ended the prohibition of cannabis for adults, though many countries allow medical cannabis and have instituted progressive drug policy reforms.)
One of the president-elect’s favorite campaign slogans translates to “hugs, not gunfire,” and is meant to reflect López Obrador’s anti-corruption platform, which includes combating illegal drug market violence.
López Obrador has made clear that he’s interested in an alternative approach to the drug war, proposing amnesty for low-level drug offenders—with a focus on farmers caught cultivating opium poppy and marijuana— and arguing that a softer approach to drug enforcement efforts could be more effective than the status quo, which he believes has failed.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 3, 2018
“I will achieve peace, that’s my commitment, I will achieve peace and end the war—we are not going to continue with the same strategy that hasn’t brought us positive results,” López Obrador said at a recent rally. “By the middle of my six-year term, there will be no war, and the situation will be completely different.”
In spite of the president-elect’s grandiose promises, however, he’s declined to answer questions from the press about his personal stance on cannabis policy.
The current status of marijuana in Mexico
Over the course of his six years in office, outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s position on cannabis policy evolved demonstrably. Two years after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that a group of activists was allowed to grow marijuana because it determined that prohibiting cannabis consumption was unconstitutional, Peña Nieto signed a decree that legalized medical cannabis nationwide. However, legal medical marijuana products are limited to “cannabis derivatives” that contain less than one percent THC.
The decree also mandated that Mexico’s Ministry of Health implement regulatory policies around cannabis and first develop a research program before the government broadens its marijuana laws.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has advocated for legalization for years.
“How different it feels to be by the side of business community members who are responsible people and decision makers, rather than being by the side of Chapo Guzman or all those criminals that kill and kill and kill,” Fox said last year, referring to the infamous drug cartel leader.
The recreational marijuana market remains illegal under federal law in Mexico. Whether López Obrado will take steps to expand the country’s medical cannabis system or push for full legalization after he takes office on December 1 is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, a growing number of U.S. states are ending marijuana prohibition, as is Canada.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.