Ever since the Spanish colonists began farming hemp in Mexico over 400 years ago, cannabis has been a delicate topic in the country – first used as a painkiller, then banned in 1920, and today, almost legal… but also, not at all. The marijuana (or marihuana) rules are hazy, and the consequences of breaking them are no joke. We broke down the top three things you need to know before using cannabis South of the Border.
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) Medicinal marijuana use is not legal (yet)
In a nearly unanimous vote in 2017, medical marijuana (or, more specifically, “pharmaceutical derivatives of cannabis“) were made legal in Mexico. But, there’s a catch: the Mexican Ministry of Health still needs work out some specifics. This means that it is still illegal for patients to obtain medical marijuana or for doctors to prescribe it, and it won’t be legal until the Ministry of Health produces guidelines for it. Even then, though, the law stipulates that the cannabis derivatives (oils, capsules, etc.) will be required to contain less than one percent THC.
2) Possessing small amounts of recreational marijuana won’t send you to jail
In an effort to distinguish cannabis consumers from distributors, Mexico decriminalized the possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana – the equivalent of four marijuana cigarettes – in 2009. While those caught with less than this “personal use” limit are encouraged to seek treatment, drug rehabilitation is not required until the offender is caught three times.
3) You can be arrested for possessing over 5 grams of cannabis (and for cultivating, selling, producing, and trafficking)
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” designated in the United State’s Declaration of Independence.) So began the long battle for the full legalization of recreational cannabis in the country.
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 even began creating a bill to legalize recreational cannabis production and sales soon after (which, among other interesting quirks, would exclude edibles and make the legal age of purchase and possession a sprightly 18.) However, the deadline to pass both has been pushed back several times (the most recent being to December 15th of 2020, since the pandemic overwhelmed the previous deadline in March) and President Andrés Obrador announced in a February press conference that the government is no longer considering the legalization of marijuana beyond medicinal use.
Even so, the fact that cannabis was declared a fundamental human right in Mexico is proving hard to ignore. Ever since Mexico’s Supreme Court declared the prohibition of cannabis unconstitutional, possession of the product has essentially been legal in practical effect, but not in legislation. So, while it is reportedly rare to be arrested for a cannabis-related offense in Mexico, it still happens. According to MarijuanaDoctors.com, violators will be prosecuted if caught cultivating, selling, producing, or trafficking marijuana, or if found possessing more than five grams of the drug.
It’s also important to note 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.
Want to find out more?
For the latest on Mexico’s marijuana legalization bill:
For more on Mexico’s cannabis legalization history:
More on cannabis law:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was updated to feature related links on March 9th, 2021.