Mexican Attitudes to Marijuana Mellow

Article by The Economist

IN NOVEMBER 57% of Californians voted to legalise the growing and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Americans in seven other states and Washington, DC, are now, or soon expect to be, free to puff away at leisure, but liberalisation in the most populous border state will be felt acutely down south. Mexico has just marked the tenth anniversary of a war on drugs. It has spent millions of dollars on eradicating cannabis. Now it will abut a huge regulated market for the stuff—and one where 30% of the population is Mexican or Mexican-American. Changes in the United States may be prompting a rethink in Mexico, too—among ordinary people, policymakers and purveyors of pot alike.

Start with the citizens. Nearly a third of voters in Mexico currently support legalising marijuana for recreational use. Attitudes are mellowing: in 2008 only 7% approved of legal pot (see chart). Many Mexicans associate the herb with the horrors of the drug war, estimated to have cost more than 80,000 lives. For some this is a reason to crack down harder on it; for others, to take it out of the hands of criminals.

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has proposed decriminalising the possession of 28 grams or less of pot for recreational purposes (the current limit is five grams). On December 13th, in an important step towards detoxifying the drug, the senate voted to legalise medical marijuana. This partial liberalisation is popular: 98 out of 127 senators backed it, with just seven votes against. Newspapers are filled with stories of cannabis’s potential in the treatment of a host of conditions. Even the Catholic Archbishop of Mexico City gave his imprimatur to the bill. The lower house is expected to approve it in early 2017.

Like a pothead’s bedroom, though, the path to full legalisation is strewn with obstacles. Mr Peña’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is torn between pandering to its traditional base and appealing to younger Mexicans who, like their peers elsewhere, are more relaxed about cannabis. The PRI’s poor performance in June’s governors’ elections was partly blamed on Mr Peña’s proposed reforms of marijuana and gay-marriage laws, which may have alienated social conservatives. Since then decriminalisation has been delayed.

Then there is Donald Trump. Possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law in the United States. The teetotal president-elect’s views are unclear: he has said that pot policy should be left to the states and legalisation “should be studied”, but also that the drug should not be legalised now. His nominee for attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, is an old-fashioned drug warrior, who has railed against Barack Obama’s “lax treatment” of marijuana. He may enforce federal rules more eagerly in California and elsewhere. Or not.

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