by Martín Barriuso on 02/08/2016 | Cultural

Evolution of the Cannabis Situation in Mexico

Mexico Even though the cannabis movement is weak and marihuana growing is a crime, there are already in Mexico authorized growers, grow-shops, social clubs and politicians proposing regulation. What could happen now in a country so strongly affected by the power of illegal drug trade? Find out in this article.

For many years there has been in Mexico a promising but modest cannabis movement. The Marihuana World March has completed its 16th edition, and political debate on the issue of cannabis has always been ongoing, not for nothing is this the country where the term marihuana was coined. Since 2011 in Mexico City, debate about regulation of marihuana use has been present at the Federal District parliament.

Evolution of the Cannabis Situation in Mexico

So far in 2016 the government has held five discussion forums on the question of cannabis regulation. Nonetheless, the dramatic “Mexican Drug War” declared in 2006 during Felipe Calderon’s presidency – which since then has approximately left a death toll of 150.000 people – and the tremendous power of the drug cartels, have made cannabis regulation difficult, making Mexico lag behind its omnipresent northern neighbour, where major steps in cannabis regulation are currently taking place.

Nonetheless, Mexico’s Supreme Court historic decision to authorize four members of the SMART association to grow marihuana for their private consumption has stirred the ongoing debate like an earthquake. In addition to this, the wide resonance that regulation in the United States has had (and the possibility that California approves recreational cannabis use) has forced people who had previously set the subject aside, to think about it again. Even president Peña Nieto, in hopes of addressing what is coming ahead, has made his own regulation proposal, the so-called “Marihuana Mx Initiative”.

Cannabis Culture Forum

In this context of sudden effervescence, the First Cannabis Culture Forum was organized in Mexico City last May in collaboration with Cannabis Hub, a young and dynamic organization. Discussions, debates, demonstrations and screenings about cannabis took place over two days at the Blackberry Auditorium in the Aztec capital. The presence of commercial stands of a number of cannabis companies completed the scene. Even though public attendance to the venue was lower than anticipated, expectancy in the social networks and the mass media was very important.

Having been invited to this forum has given me a chance to evaluate the situation of cannabis in Mexico and I must say that the advances that have taken place in recent years have impressed me. To begin with, the debate about cannabis has become more prominent and, above all, it has stopped being a taboo subject or one only reserved for “weird people.” Talking about weed has ceased to be something reserved to marginalized people or criminals, social perception has been gradually changing and there are now a number of major political parties that defend the need to regulate cannabis.

The Forum of Cannabis Culture was an excellent example of this change: representatives of various parliamentary groups and from the Federal Government participated in the debates. The attendance of a representative of the Supreme Court to explain the famous decision about the SMART case was even scheduled, but in the end, he apologized for not being able to attend. The presence of representatives from the three branches of power, namely, the legislative, executive and the judicial branches, fell short.  Without doubt, the most important participant from the government was the representative of the Secretariat of Governance (Ministry of Interior), who explained president Peña Nieto’s regulation proposal.

Evolution of the Cannabis Situation in Mexico

Opening with some reservation

The Mexican government proposes the legalization of medical use “under strict controls” and to decriminalize marihuana possession of up to 28 grams in public spaces, without allowing growing, which would continue to be a crime.  Hence, Mexican consumers should continue to resort to drug dealing networks and, even though going from 5 grams to 28 grams could improve the situation, it is usual that the police adds marihuana to the amounts seized from users so that it reaches the minimum penalized weight. Therefore, it is probable that Peña Nieto’s proposal, if it moves forward, has very limited impact.

However, interestingly enough, government representatives do not deny that their proposal is in fact limiting and contradictory, but they do so in reaction to the pressure from the media and particularly from public opinion. In fact, surveys show that around 70% of the Mexican population opposes marihuana regulation, given the fact that they see it as a way of “legalizing drug dealing.” And Mexican drug dealers in general, have a terrible image.

The fact of the matter is that cannabis growing and consumption in Mexico are closely related to drug trafficking. In almost all cases, whoever grows cannabis is involved in the mafia network. Very few people dare growing marihuana on their own, and when they do, usually they grow small quantities in a very discreet way, rendering this phenomenon practically invisible.

The first Cannabis Social Clubs

In spite of the difficulties, the Mexican cannabis movement is getting organized and it is growing. On the one hand, the judicial victory of SMART has opened a new opportunity that until now was unimaginable. The members of SMART have already made clear that they do not intent to grow cannabis (nor to consume it) and that the only objective of their initiative was to attain a favorable judicial precedent and to dismantle the economic foundations of drug trafficking.  Because the first ruling in favor of SMART only affects its members, and since in Mexico there needs to be five Supreme Court rulings in the same direction in order to set a case law, a myriad of people and organizations have launched similar protection judicial processes leading to the putting forward of 260 amparo proceedings up until now. It would be enough for four of such initiatives to be successful for marihuana home growing to become recognized as a personal right.

Meanwhile, more and more people begin to lose their fear and begin homegrowing invidually or in groups. The grow shops, where selling seeds is for now forbidden, proliferate under the designation of “urban agriculture” shops, though they do it more and more conspicuously. Despite censorship after it was first released, Cañamo magazine celebrated it’s first year of existence. Social Cannabis Clubs (SCC) have emerged, though diffidently given the fact that growing remains a crime.

The ban on growing has only allowed the public emergence of two SCCs: SMART and Xochipilli. Both of them have succeeded in becoming known precisely because they do not grow cannabis. For their part, clubs that do it must operate clandestinely and with great limitations. I had the opportunity to visit one of these clubs and witnessed the difficulties they encounter. The crops grown indoors were modest and so was distribution. In fact, only the legal limit of 5 grams or under is distributed at a time and it is often delivered in order to avoid the trouble of having to go from one place to another carrying marihuana.

Putting the cart before the horse?

One of the major limitations of the Mexican cannabis movement is the need to remain invisible. The contrast between the overwhelming following of the Cannabis Hub Forum in the social networks and the poor attendance rate at the auditorium is remarkable.  Surely, many potential activists feared to be seen going to an event filled with “potheads.” The Global Marihuana March, which is already almost a tradition, has very discrete attendance numbers for a city as big as Mexico. One just has to compare the Aztec march with the one in Buenos Aires to notice the contrast.

From my perspective of being an activist in Spain for a quarter century, the current situation in Mexico is practically the reverse of ours. Public opinion in Mexico is clearly against cannabis regulation and the Supreme Court is the most committed to defending the right to grow the plant, whereas in Spain, it is the Supreme Tribunal that stifles the cannabis movement.  In Mexico there are no associations and home growing is practically invisible while the government organizes debates and political parties compete to make proposal. Thus, some political factors seem to be helping, but for the moment social reality will challenge the possibility of attaining a de facto situation as the one in Spain. It is as though in Mexico they had put the cart before the horse.

Now, is this limitation positive or negative? In my view, a premature triumph in regulating cannabis could have adverse consequences. In a country where apart from drug dealers there are no growers, where there is a great lack of information about the plant, and where cannabis users are hardly organized, any regulatory law risks favoring the interests of drug dealers, and above all, the interests of large foreign companies. Without a strong cannabis culture and without an organizing tradition a sudden regulation fallen from the sky could turn Mexico into a sort of cannabic Las Vegas. From a risk-reducing perspective, that would be a disaster. Hence, what can be hoped for the cannabis Mexican movement is that it generates as soon as possible the social fabric and the political proposals to match the demands of the debate that has emerged. That all the debates, forums, marches, and so on, be useful to win the battle over public opinion, which at the end of the day is the only one that counts. It is useless to win judicial cases if we are unable to have the people on our side.

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