Mexico is on track to become the latest country to legalise cannabis – The Economist

Medical Cannabis Legalisation

ON OCTOBER 9TH 2019 Lucía Riojas Martínez, a Mexican congresswoman, gave her colleague Olga Sánchez Cordero, the country’s grey-haired interior minister, a neatly rolled joint, or “churro” while speaking on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies. The stunt, which was intended to be an expression of support for cannabis legalisation, seems to have paid off at last. This month Mexico’s lower house voted to legalise recreational marjiuana use. Although the bill still needs to be approved by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, it is expected to pass, making Mexico the world’s largest legal cannabis market.

Mexico is only the latest country to legalise the herb. Uruguay permitted recreational cannabis in 2013; Canada did so five years later. Medical marijuana is legal in at least 35 countries, according to Prohibition Partners, a consultancy. Acceptance of recreational weed often follows medical use. And although only a few countries have fully fledged legal and regulatory frameworks for the production and sale of recreational marijuana, 15 American states and the District of Columbia already have them in place. On March 25th, officials in New York reportedly finalised a deal to become the latest state to legalise recreational weed.

More legalisation plans are in the works. In 2018 Luxembourg’s ruling coalition announced its intention to legalise recreational cannabis, and South Africa’s parliament is considering a bill that would allow the personal use of dagga, after the country’s supreme court ruled in 2018 that the criminalisation of weed for personal use was unconstitutional. In America, Democratic senators have said they plan to end the federal prohibition on marjiuana this year.

There are two main arguments in favour of legalising marjiuana: money and medicine. Legal weed can generate millions in tax revenue for governments. The state of Washington earned nearly $474m in revenue from pot in 2020; Colorado collected $390m in taxes and fees. Marijuana can offer relief to people suffering from chronic pain. For those who like to smoke for fun, the risks are relatively low (it is probably impossible to die from an overdose). Legalising the production and sale of weed helps to dampen the criminal market, too, although that can depend on the price of legal supplies. Less than one-third of cannabis users in Canada get all of their supplies from legal sources, in part because it is nearly 80% more expensive.

Many countries legalise medical marijuana before turning to the recreational variety—Mexico did so in 2017. Suffering grandmas are an easier sell to voters than stoner teenagers. Ironically, in places where only medical cannabis is legal, such as Britain, it is not always tested to the same standards as other medicines. Prohibition and prejudice has thwarted research into weed’s therapeutic potential. But as more and more countries relax their attitudes towards lighting up, a fuller picture of the drug’s risks and benefits can emerge.