Mexico Set to Legalize Marijuana, Becoming World’s Largest Market
Lawmakers in Mexico have approved a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, but in a country still marred by a deadly drug war, the proposal has proved divisive.
Marijuana plants growing at a pro-legalization protest camp outside of the Senate building in Mexico City last year. Credit. Fernando Llano/Associated Press
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- Published March 10, 2021 Updated March 19, 2021
MEXICO CITY — Lawmakers in Mexico approved a bill Wednesday night to legalize recreational marijuana, a milestone for the country, which is in the throes of a drug war and could become the world’s largest cannabis market, leaving the United States between two pot-selling neighbors.
The 316-to-129 vote in Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, came more than two years after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the country’s ban on recreational marijuana was unconstitutional and more than three years after the country legalized medicinal cannabis.
The chamber approved the bill in general terms Wednesday evening before moving on to a lengthy discussion of possible revisions introduced by individual lawmakers. In its final form, though, the measure is widely expected to sail through the Senate before being sent to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has signaled support for legalization.
The measure, as of Wednesday night, would allow adults to smoke marijuana and, with a permit, grow a small number of cannabis plants at home. It would also grant licenses for producers — from small farmers to commercial growers — to cultivate and sell the crop.
“Today we are in a historic moment,” said Simey Olvera, a lawmaker with the governing Morena party. “With this, the false belief that cannabis is part of Mexico’s serious public health problems is left behind.”
If enacted, Mexico would join Canada and Uruguay in a small but growing list of countries that have legalized marijuana in the Americas, adding further momentum to the legalization movement in the region. In the United States, Democrats in the Senate have also promised to scrap federal prohibition of the drug this year.
For “Mexico, given its size and its worldwide reputation for being damaged by the drug war, to take this step is enormously significant,” said John Walsh, director of drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S. advocacy group. “North America is heading toward legalization.”
In Mexico, however, the bill has proved divisive.
Critics say it is unlikely to make a serious dent in Mexico’s soaring rates of cartel-fueled violence, and argue that it is unwelcome in a country where nearly two-thirds of people oppose legalizing marijuana, according to recent polling.
“It’s a political fad,” said Damián Zepeda Vidales, a senator with the opposition National Action Party and one of the bill’s most vocal detractors. “It’s a matter for politicians, for an elite that’s now empowered in Congress and in government that wants to impose a way of life on society.”
Security experts agree that the law’s practical impact on violence will likely be minimal: With 15 American states having now legalized marijuana, they argue, the crop has become a relatively small part of the Mexican drug trafficking business, with cartels focusing on more profitable products like fentanyl and methamphetamines.
“We shouldn’t overestimate the power of this bill,” said Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group, a global research organization. The bill will not “substantially change the dynamics and drivers of lethal conflict in Mexico.”
Proponents of legalizing marijuana contend that the bill is too limited in scope, even if it represents a symbolic breakthrough in the push to end a drug war that has cost an estimated 150,000 lives, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Legalization “is an important step toward building peace in a country like ours, where for at least a decade or more, we’ve been immersed in an absurd war,” said Lucía Riojas Martínez, a Mexican congresswoman who made headlines in 2019 when she gave a rolled joint to the country’s interior minister, Olga Sánchez Cordero, after delivering a speech in Congress.
“But this bill falls short of achieving that,” she added.
Lucía Riojas Martínez, a Mexican congresswoman who made headlines in 2019 when she gave a rolled joint to the country’s interior minister, Olga Sánchez Cordero. Credit. Luis Antonio Rojas for The New York Times
It is also unclear how much the law will benefit Mexico’s poor farmers, who have grown marijuana for decades and often end up in the middle of conflicts between warring drug trafficking groups.
The bill mandates that small farmers and Indigenous people be given priority in licensing, but stipulates only that these vulnerable groups can be granted more than one license.
And without additional state policies to tackle organized crime, particularly in areas where marijuana is grown, said Mr. Ernst, such well-intentioned requirements may not have a meaningful impact for farmers in the regions controlled by cartels.
“For most areas where you have these high-conflict settings,” said Mr. Ernst, there are not enough state resources to truly take on organized crime groups.
A soldier helping destroy an illegal marijuana plantation in 2019 in Sinaloa state, Mexico. Credit. Rashide Frias/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
But many entrepreneurs, at least, are seeing green.
With more than 120 million people, Mexico would represent the largest marijuana market in the world by population. The crop could become big business in Mexico, a potential financial lift for an economy badly battered by the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s an excellent economic, natural, ethical and moral solution for a country in need,” said Juan Sánchez Mejorada, chief executive of Ceres Soluciones, a medicinal cannabis company.
“Doing this right could give Mexico an economic surplus,” he said.
This kind of fervor makes pro-marijuana activists nervous.
“It’s a law for the rich, and marijuana should be for everybody,” said Ivania Medina Rodríguez, 18, a local activist. “They’re going for business before rights.”
Dressed as a giant cannabis leaf, Ms. Medina was attending a protest last year that began at a small marijuana plantation outside the Senate offices in Mexico City, where locals now regularly come to smoke pot while the police turn a blind eye.
Some activists fear that the law will overly favor large corporations that could obtain what the bill terms an “integral license,” giving them access to the entire marijuana supply chain, from seed to sale, while leaving small-scale producers and vendors locked out of the lucrative market.
The bill in Mexico would allow individual users to carry up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow six cannabis plants at home. Cannabis could also be purchased by adults over 18 at authorized businesses, and grown at larger scale by licensed groups. Medical marijuana, which Mexico legalized in 2017, would be regulated separately by the health ministry, which published rules in January covering the growing and research of medicinal cannabis.
Local advocates say the restrictions on possession will limit the bill’s impact, particularly for low-income consumers, who may fall prey to extortion from the police, a regular occurrence in Mexico.
“We live in a country where corruption and extortion is the norm,” said Zara Snapp, co-founder of the RIA Institute, a Mexico-city based drug policy research and advocacy group.
Still, for many proponents in Mexico, approving the bill is a notable step in the long journey toward full legalization.
“It’s like when you’re running a marathon and you haven’t started — running the first meter helps to start the discussion,” said Mr. Sánchez, the marijuana businessman. “It means firing the starting gun, even if we still have 42 kilometers left to go.”
Find Weed Abroad: Cannabis Travel Tips for Costa Rica and Nicaragua
I magine country roads dangerously winding through jungle mountains. Envision volcanoes with hot springs surrounded by forests with the most extravagant butterflies. Hear the sound of the waves crashing in off the Pacific Coast, listen to the trickle as the water washes over a sea turtle on its way to lay its eggs. Awake early from the howler monkeys marking their territory, go zip-lining in the afternoon, and watch a sunset over the ocean in the evening.
Central America is a great place to get a little bit of everything good. The scenery, the people, the energy, the activities, and the peace make it a slice of heaven. Something extra for the cannabis traveler: there’s rarely a lack of product. You just need to know where to look, the etiquette of the region, and how to have the best experience while there. So, take a journey with us as we explore some ways to find cannabis in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, two of the most popular Central American travel destinations.
How to Acquire Cannabis in Costa Rica
One of the first places people go in Central America is Costa Rica because they hear it’s safe. And it is. It might even be too safe. But there’s also plenty of drugs in its capital, San Jose. A few areas like Hatillo and San Pedro are known as areas where foreigners can find cannabis. The latter tends to have the better product as it’s in a bit of a shinier area. In terms of the legality of cannabis, Costa Rican law states that marijuana is illegal – but there is some grey area to the law, though. According to the Costa Rican Narcotics Law No. 8204, large-scale production, possession, and sale of cannabis is illegal. However, the law also states that carrying more than a “small dose” of marijuana is illegal as well, leaving many to interpret that “small doses” of cannabis are legal to possess and consume in private. The law does not state what a “small dose” weighs exactly, but most believe it to be somewhere between one and eight grams.
Small doses of cannabis aren’t technically illegal in Costa Rica. If caught with a small dose, a police officer might confiscate your cannabis, your pipe, and then laugh when they take your lighter, too. Be careful though, if you’re caught with more than what’s considered a small dose you could face arrest.
If you want to find cannabis in Costa Rica, listen to cab drivers and people standing around offering ‘weed’ or what they call ‘la cripe.’ There are roughly two types of cannabis to be found in Costa Rica. The good kind, la cripe. And all the rest which is often slightly brown, has seeds in the bags, and will cost you no more than $20 for an eighth. La cripe can be much more expensive; up to $60 for an eighth. Sometimes it’s definitely worth it. Other times, not so much. You can always ask to see it beforehand. A few haggling skills can go a long way in Costa Rica and the ability to speak in Spanish will go even further.
Any chance you’re going to Tamarindo? Walk past the taxis and get your cannabis, consume it, head to the board shop and rent one, and enjoy the waves for us. It’s the perfect place to learn if you’ve never surfed before, but it also has some great waves for more experienced riders, especially at the river’s mouth. Perhaps no better place to score some marijuana is in Limon or Puerto Viejo. It’s a total Caribbean feel there with tons of Rastafarians. The guy who makes your Caribbean Jerk Chicken Wrap probably has a plate of brownies in his fridge. Sometimes all you have to do is ask to see them.
How to Acquire Cannabis in Nicaragua
North of Costa Rica is a country with a variety of personalities. Its culture still suffers from the Banana Wars and even today their government is violent toward its people. Nicaragua is not well-known for its tourism quite yet, but it might be once the bad press settles down. There’s a giant lake filled with bull sharks that has twin volcanoes at its center. There’s a place to go sandboarding, there are vast jungles, and the surf is picture perfect in some places. Nicaragua is a land full of opportunity for tourists, including cannabis consumers.
Sadly, not as much of la cripe makes its way into Nicaragua, perhaps the demand isn’t high enough yet. Most of the cannabis you’ll find in Nicaragua either resembles seedy brown stuff in Costa Rica, or it will come in the hard shape of a brick. Some have reported being able to pick up an ounce of the brick weed for between $50-$75 dollars. In Nicaragua, the people who have marijuana are the people selling other products. If someone walks past you with a rack of sunglasses for sale, they might have something else in their pocket. The same goes for the lady with the handmade shirts and the one with the hammocks.
Although considered less safe than Costa Rica, you can still find some quality bud in Nicaragua.photo credit
It’s smartest to let them offer it to you, which they generally will after their first offer of sunglasses, clothing, or a new hammock. If you agree, they might not have it on their person and you might need to walk somewhere like next to a building or something so it’s not totally out in the open. Be smart; keep yourself safe. Generally, that’s the same thought of the person selling you the cannabis; they don’t want to get caught selling it. Cannabis isn’t as casual in Nicaragua as it is to its southern neighbor. San Juan Del Sur is probably the easiest beach to score at, guys selling sunglasses walk by every 10 minutes it seems. The calm attitude of the community, the interesting architecture, and the swimming and hiking in the area make San Juan Del Sur an awesome place to visit for a cannabis vacation.
Cannabis in Central America, a Must-See?
The cannabis in Central American countries like Costa Rica and Nicaragua itself can be good, but isn’t anything write home about. It’s the people and landscape that gives Central America its particular appeal to the cannabis consumer. For a low-priced smoke, people can enjoy the waves of the Pacific or drink some of the best coffee in the world. It’s a place full of kind locals who will gladly have a laugh with you if you’ll share your cannabis and practice your Spanish. A personal favorite of our team is dipping into the hot springs around Volcano Arenal. It can’t be beaten as a cannabis consumer getaway.
If you know how to speak some Spanish, you might find yourself in a very unique and special place where you’ll connect with people from another country in a way that is only possible through the sharing of cannabis. Be open-minded, stay friendly, and expect the best of Central America’s people, you’ll be grateful when they truly open their doors to you.
Do you have any tips for finding cannabis in Central America? Share them in the comments below!
How & Where to Buy CBD Products in Mexico (2021)
In recent years, the Federal Government of Mexico has been making significant changes to the way CBD and other cannabis products are regulated and controlled within the country. Many people living in Mexico, or who are thinking of traveling abroad to Mexico find the laws confusing.
This article seeks to clear the air when it comes to the legality of buying, and using CBD products in Mexico.
Currently, CBD products with less than 1% of THC are now sold legally as supplements, just as you would buy vitamins or Omega-3. However, there are some rules that complicate CBD’s regulation.
Mexico is currently considered as having a legal grey area for CBD — with some laws allowing citizens to use the supplement, while others make things difficult (such as the application to import).
If you want to buy CBD products in Mexico, this article is the ultimate guide to help you get started.
Summary: Buying CBD in Mexico
- Medical cannabis with less than 1% THC (including most CBD oils) has been legal in Mexico since 2017
- Both hemp and marijuana regulation is still under development in Mexico — but are scheduled to be finalized by April 2021
- The Mexican congress just passed a ballot that removed cannabis from the list of restricted compounds — but this doesn’t make the plant explicitly legal
- COFEPRIS has approved 38 cannabis products that are now available to the public within Mexico
Best CBD Oil in Mexico:
Hemp Bombs CBD Oil
$0.07 – $0.17
Nature’s Script CBD Oils
$0.07 – $0.17
Charlotte’s Web CBD Oils
$0.05 – $0.19
Endoca CBD Oils
€0.08 – €0.09
Kat’s Naturals Naked THC-Free Sublingual CBD Oil
$0.11 – $0.14
NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
$0.09 – $0.16
Is CBD Legal in Mexico?
In short, yes — CBD products containing less than 1% THC content is legal to purchase in Mexico.
COFEPRIS — the main regulatory body for CBD supplements, released seven applications to different companies to import and produce CBD products derived from hemp.
In total, 38 products have been approved — 21 are supplements, nine are cosmetics, six are food and two raw materials. These met the requirements and are currently being exported or imported by these national and foreign companies: HempMeds Mexico, Mariguanol, Foria Awaken, CBD Life, CBD Science, Endo Natural Labs and Master Pharmacies.
Although only a handful of companies have been officially approved, most people report no issues ordering CBD products from the United States and having it shipped to their address.
How to Buy CBD in Mexico [2021 Updated]
Importation, as well as exportation of cannabis oil, needs authorization by COFEPRIS. As mentioned above, there are 38 products based on hemp oil which have been approved for sales — but this number is growing every month to include new products and companies.
You may be able to order other products from places like the United States or Europe and have CBD products shipped to your doorstep. Your package may be confiscated at the border, but most people don’t report any trouble ordering CBD products to their address.
Buying CBD Locally in Mexico
Within Mexico, there are only a few CBD companies currently offered in local shops. These are the companies that have been pre-approved by COFEPRIS:
1. HempMeds Mexico
After promoting the regulation of medical marijuana, Grace’s father, Raúl Elizalde now helps people who need cannabis-derived medicines as president of the Latin America division of HempMeds.
HempMeds is a Californian company that sells a wide range of cannabis products, and the first CBD company to enter Mexico.
2. CBD Life
This is the first Mexican brand to start selling cannabis products. They sell three CBD balms, Cold, Warm, and Calm.
The Warm balm has an effective combination of CBD with natural ingredients, like eucalyptus and apricot oil. CBD Life’s Cold balm is a refreshing combination of aloe vera, arnica, chamomile and isolate CBD. The Calm balm has a unique combination of Aloe barbadensis leaves, cranberry extract, Centella asiatica and CBD isolate.
CBD Life is the official distributor of the two other brands as well:
A) Mariguanol — This is a popular, traditional Mexican marijuana ointment aimed at supporting rheumatic pain, arthritis or inflammation. It’s been on the market for many years now and gone from being a black market product to listed in pharmacies across Mexico. CBD Life recently bought the trademark for this product.
B) Foria Awaken — This is a well-known American company, and CBD Life has been granted its exclusive distribution in Mexico. Foria sells high-quality CBD products that call attention to the role of cannabis in the intimacy and lifestyle of women. While they may not have a wide selection of products in its catalog, each formula is well determined to address a specific concern.
2. Master Pharmacies
This Mexican lab manufactures sublingual CBD and THC oils. The company hasn’t officially opened for business yet, but hopes to launch in early 2021.
The company aims to develop capsules, oral, topical solutions and sprays later in 2021. This lab will source raw materials from the Canadian company, Aurora Cannabis.
Buying CBD Online in Mexico
The other option is to order your products online and have them shipped to your doorstep. This allows you to purchase, at your convenience, from a much larger range of CBD companies and products.
Most people living in Mexico order their CBD supplements from the United States — which has the most diverse marketplace for CBD products in the world. There are hundreds of companies currently selling CBD oils out of the United States, and shipping fees to Mexico remain relatively cheap.
So how do you order CBD products into Mexico from the United States?
Most people will simply order the product online and have it shipped to their address — we haven’t found any examples of people who had their products confiscated at the border, but this is always a possibility.
Technically, you need to apply for approval to import CBD products into Mexico. This is a bit of a process, but once completed, it becomes very easy to order CBD online and have it shipped to your address legally.
If you want to import CBD products, you have to follow the guidelines put in place by COFEPRIS.
Currently, the only products that can be imported must have concentrations of less than 1% of THC, and a valid Certificate of Analysis.
The process for importing CBD to Mexico is as follows:
- Fill out the permission request form by Cofepris
- Provide a medical prescription, which must include the doctor’s professional ID number
- Include the product associated Certificate of Analysis (CoA)
Authorities have three business days to answer the request, if not, a request can be taken as approved, and permission must be granted. If the product you want doesn’t have a CoA, you can request your product to be tested by COFEPRIS. Once your request is granted you are free to order online from whichever company ships to Mexico.
Pros & Cons of Buying CBD Online in Mexico
- Much wider product selection
- You can have the product sent directly to your door
- The price tends to be cheaper when ordering online
- You product could be stopped at the border if the importation documents aren’t approved
- You’ll have to wait for your product to arrive which can take a few days
- There are many steps involved with importing CBD products properly into Mexico
A History of Cannabis Laws in Mexico
The cannabis plant arrived in Mexico from the Spanish colonizers in the early 1500s. The herb was primarily used to make ropes and fabrics for Spanish ships and newly-formed colonies.
Around 1920, from the influence of an American by the name of Harry J. Anslinger, the production, sale, and recreational use of cannabis was officially banned in Mexico. Anslinger was largely responsible for the banning of cannabis plants around the world, starting in the United States that would last for decades.
A turning point in history was Graciela Elizalde’s case in Monterrey, Mexico.
Eight-year-old Graciela Elizalde was diagnosed with Lennox Gastaut syndrome, causing her to suffer from as many as 400 seizures per day. In August 2015, she was granted permission to import a cannabis oil rich in CBD as treatment.
The girl’s father, Raúl Elizalde (now president of HempMeds Mexico) found a judge who granted his daughter access to cannabis oil as a treatment for her condition. The results were nothing short of amazing — reducing her seizures dramatically to just a few per week.
This case became iconic in the fight for medical cannabis in Mexico.
By June 19, 2017, president Enrique Peña Nieto signed a bill into law that officially legalized the cultivation, production, and use of non-psychoactive medical cannabis products with less than 1% THC in Mexico.
A year later, in 2018, president-elect AMLO’s party moved toward full marijuana legalization to fight the violence and poverty that resulted from the prohibition ban across the country. Olga Sánchez Cordero, who was then-senator, now Interior Secretary of Government, proposed an initiative to fully decriminalize and regulate personal, industrial, medical, and scientific use.
This would also allow every Mexican to grow up to 20 marijuana plants on private property and produce up to 17 ounces (480 grams) a year under the condition that growers register their plants.
In the same year, the Supreme Court of Mexico declared it unconstitutional to ban marijuana’s recreational use, stating that “the fundamental right to the free development of the personality allows the persons of legal age to decide what kind of recreational activities they wish to carry out.”
The Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) and the Ministry of Health issued new cannabis regulations in April 2020.
Today, although it’s still illegal to possess marijuana, and the plant’s sale or its derivatives is considered drug trafficking at the moment, Mexicans interested in growing and consuming marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, may request legal protection. All courts in the country are required to grant permission to consume marijuana for recreational purposes.
The cultivation and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes must have a permit processed by COFEPRIS. The issuance of this permit, however, is currently prohibited.
The permit will allow personal use, planting, harvesting, transportation and everything related to personal consumption of cannabis products.
The CBD market in Mexico is huge — in 2018, the CBD Life company said that the Mexican market could reach sales of 150 billion dollars by 2023.
Recommended CBD Brands That Ship to Mexico
When shopping for CBD products online, it’s important to consider the following factors of what makes for a good CBD product or company:
- The quality of the product — is it third-party tested? Does the company have a good track record?
- The price and value of the product — is the cost appropriate for the quality and potency of the product?
- Shipping times — will this product arrive in Mexico in a few days or a few weeks?
Don’t forget: your CBD product cannot contain more than 1% of THC if you want to have it sent to Mexico — make sure to double-check this before making the purchase.