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The latest… uh… dope

17 January 2022

When back at the end of 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that smoking marijuana was constitutionally protected (under the rubric of the “free development of personality”… one of several rights specifically mentioned in the expansive (in theory, not always in practice) “Magna Carta”. While there was a lot of smoke (especially in the US media) about the coming “legalization”, it has yet to happen.

For two important reasons: First off, with Canada and several larger US states having already legalized, or decriminalized use, the market value has dropped, and Mexican smugglers have turned to more lucrative products like heroin and meth, or taken up other criminal activities (gasoline theft, shaking down avocado producers, etc.) that offer a better return on their investment.

The second reason is… and much to the disappointment of at least some “expats”, Canadian marketers (all set to begin operations here) and US consumers… is that there really isn’t all that much support, or objections, to what is seen as a relatively unimportant issue.

The “drug war” (allegedly ended in the US by Barack Obama, though it lasted through the Peña Nieto administration here) aside, the marijuana industry WAS important at one time. According to Benjamin T. Smith’s The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade (W.W. Norton, 2021), even though Mexico was supposedly “fighting drugs”, it was a relatively reliable revenue source for the state. Call it corruption, but as Smith noted, it was more a “shake-down” by state (and later federal) authorities… an informal export duty that — for all the memes and fictional stories about corrupt officials getting rich — surprisingly was, for the most part, well invested by governments and seen as a way of keeping down the rates for more honest businesses and ordinary taxpayers. It’s been said (though I don’t think by Smith) that “taxes” on marijuna paid for the University of Baja California campus… a worthy investment, to be sure.

One might assume (and one might be right) that informal taxation on the more profitable meth and heroin (and, lately, fentanyl) exports may still be informally taxed, although it appears that there is less toleration for the “informal taxation” system, as well as personal corruption. Combined with the present government’s push for better accounting and auditing, as well as tighter controls on law enforcement agencies, such methods are just not worth the trouble, especially when it comes to lower value illegal exports, like marijuana.

Add to that, when the Senate, back in December 2020, sent its “Ley Federal para la Regularización de Cannabis” to the Chamber of Deputies, what emerged was a substantially changed bill that, in the opinion of Senate leaders, instead of just legalizing personal use, actually created harsher penalties. For example, the original Senate bill legalized possession up to 28 grams, with relatively mild sanctions for quantities up to 200 grams. The Chamber bill called for anything over 28 grams… even 29 grams.. to face up to four years in prison (as opposed to the present three years), and large fines for failure to obtain a proposed certificate allowing one to possess marijuana in the first place. And, other changes from the initial proposal — which favored small growers (i.e., campesinos) over corporate growers and foreign investors.

When the Chamber bill was returned to the Senate in April 2021, there were more pressing issues. Like Covid, like the Federal Budget, like Lithium, like democratic reforms, like…

So…MAYBE in Frbruary, the Senate will again pass an amended, amended bill, pared down to the most basic of issues… legalizing the use (though they’re fighting over whether this means persons 18 and over, 21 and over, or 25 and over) and revisiting what are perhaps more important things… the comercial hemp trade, quality control, distribution and taxation… sometime later.

Or not.

Becerril, Andrea. “Va Senado por despenalización de la mota con nueva iniciativa”, La Jornada, 17 January 2022, page 4.

Busby, Mattha, “Mexico has a new marijuana legalization bill. Here’s what’s in it“, Leafly, 2 December 2021.

Smith, Benjamin T. The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade (W.W. Norton, 2021)

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