If Mexico’s cannabis laws confuse you, you’re not alone. While cannabis is technically illegal in the country, full prohibition was declared unconstitutional in 2018, leaving cannabis businesses, consumers, and healthcare providers in the country to navigate a complex grey area for the past three years.
That may soon change, though. According to Mexican lawmakers, a draft bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Mexico is being circulated in the Senate, and it might be passed in the next few months. If passed, Mexico would be well on its way to becoming the world’s largest cannabis market.
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The bill hasn’t been formally introduced yet, but if the revisions made by the Senate left the essence of the original bill intact, it would legalize the possession and sale of up to 28 grams of cannabis by persons 18 years or older. The cultivation of up to six cannabis plants for personal use would also be legal.
After the Senate vote, the bill would need to be signed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador before being made law. The President has already shown support for cannabis legalization.
Once the law is enacted, retail licenses for cannabis sale would be issued within 18 months.
The Story Behind Mexico’s Cannabis Bill
This bill has a long history. In 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court declared the prohibition of personal use, possession, and private cultivation of cannabis unconstitutional, stating that it violated the fundamental human right to “the free development of the personality” (think of it as the right to the “pursuit of happiness” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.)
The Mexican Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Health to publish guidelines for medicinal cannabis use within 180 days after the 2018 ruling, and Mexican legislators began creating a bill to legalize recreational cannabis production and sales soon after. But the deadline to pass the bill was pushed back several times, as lawmakers tackled mistakes in the proposal and complications with COVID-19.
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Finally, the bill was passed by the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s lower house, in March of 2021. Since then, the Senate has been taking time to revise and perfect the bill before voting. Some issues senators are addressing include equity laws, penalties for possessing over 200 grams of cannabis, and the definition of hemp.
Legislators are hopeful that legalizing recreational cannabis sales would provide a significant boost to Mexico’s economy and reduce drug-related crime, issues that are especially pressing as the country recovers from COVID-19.
What’s legal now?
Though considerable strides are being made, the current cannabis laws in Mexico are still hazy, and failing to understand it can put tourists at serious risk. We broke down what you need to know before using cannabis south of the border.
Bear in mind that these laws only apply to the use of cannabis inside the country. Bringing cannabis of any amount or any kind – recreational or medical – across the border into Mexico is considered international drug trafficking, and can lead to arrest.
1. Possession and use of up to 28 grams of recreational cannabis by persons 18 and older is not a crime
Mexico voted to decriminalize the use of up to 28 grams of cannabis this June, effectively making recreational cannabis legal for “auto-consumption” (i.e. growing and harvesting your own cannabis plants.) But don’t get too excited.
Auto-consumption may be decriminalized, but recreational sales remain illegal, and the government has yet to issue guidelines for how growers are to access the requisite seeds otherwise.
Also, recreational cannabis use is only legal with a permit. If you want to grow your own weed, you must first send an application to Cofepris (Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk), Mexico’s version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In other words, small amounts of recreational marijuana are legal in theory right now, but it may be a while before you can put that theory put into practice.
2. It is legal to possess and prescribe medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Mexico since 2017, but the government took its time setting up the regulatory framework to make it accessible.
It wasn’t until January of 2021 that the Secretary of Health published regulations for Mexico’s medical marijuana program and legal pathways were finally established for doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients.
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Now, those who wish to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes or research can apply for a permit issued by SENASA (the National Service for Agrifood Health and Quality.) Doctors looking to prescribe medical cannabis can register to do so with Cofepris. You can also apply for a permit to import and export medical marijuana to and from the country.
3. It is legal to purchase, sell, and possess CBD.
If you’re traveling to Mexico anytime soon, one thing you can count on finding is CBD.
CBD products containing less than 1% THC are fully legal in Mexico, and are known to have similar health benefits to marijuana (such as reducing stress and pain) without the psychoactive effects. CBD products must contain less than 0.3% THC in most U.S. states. So, if you’re looking for a healthy way to wind down on vacation, CBD may be your new best friend.
Of course, CBD law in Mexico is more complicated than it is in the U.S. Only government-approved CBD products are legal for sale, so be sure to do your research before purchasing. Most CBD products in Mexico come in the form of supplements and can be found in special CBD stores.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Senate vote to legalize cannabis in Mexico was not passed on December 15th, as previously predicted.
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.