MEXICO CITY — Mexico may soon legalize marijuana, a radical shift for a country whose prohibition on narcotics has been at the heart of its long and violent war against drug traffickers.
Legislation submitted to Congress this month by the party of leftist President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would regulate cannabis, allowing it to be grown, sold and consumed for recreational use.
Proponents of legalization say it would reduce bloodshed in Mexico by weakening drug cartels and freeing up police officers and prosecutors to focus on more serious crimes. But the proposal has critics, including the Catholic Church, which holds significant sway in Mexican politics. A poll in Mexico last year showed a majority of respondents opposed legalizing marijuana.
Here’s more about where the legalization effort stands — and what may come next.
Question: What has happened so far?
Answer: The bill presented to Congress comes on the heels of two crucial Supreme Court rulings that in effect overturned Mexico’s ban on the recreational use of marijuana.
The rulings, issued Oct. 31, found that individual liberty to choose whether to consume the drug outweighs any potential downsides.
“The effects provoked by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition of its consumption,” the court said.
The rulings followed similar decisions in three other cases. Under Mexican law, five like rulings establish jurisprudence.
Morena, the political party founded by Lopez Obrador, controls both houses of Congress, and political analysts believe the bill has a good shot at passing — probably sometime next year.
But that won’t happen without a fight.
Morena’s governing coalition includes a smaller, conservative party that has opposed legalization in the past. And while polls show Mexicans warming to the idea over recent years, a 2017 Consulta Mitofsky poll found 56 percent still oppose it.
Q: Why now?
A: The legalization debate is playing out against a backdrop of record-breaking levels of violence.
There were 31,174 homicide victims in 2017, more than in any year since the government began releasing such data more than two decades ago. This year, Mexico is on track to surpass that record.
Lopez Obrador, who was elected in a landslide during the summer and takes office Dec. 1, campaigned on a promise to end the violence. He has declared Mexico’s military-led war on drugs a failure and has said he will consider a number of radical new approaches. They include amnesty for some nonviolent criminals involved in the drug trade, the creation of truth-and-reconciliation commissions and the decriminalization of some drugs.
His pick for interior minister, Olga Sanchez Cordero, is a Morena senator and a former Supreme Court justice who has been a vocal advocate for legalizing marijuana. She co-wrote the proposed marijuana legislation, which blames the country’s escalating violence on what she called Mexico’s “prohibitionist” drug policy.
According to the bill, law enforcement officials have been unduly focused on prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses, often at the expense of investigating more serious crimes. It says 62 percent of Mexico’s prison population in 2012 had been convicted on drug charges — the majority of them for possession, cultivation or sale of marijuana.
Q: What would the law allow?
A: The new law would allow individuals to grow up to 20 marijuana plants and produce up to 17 ounces of the drug each year, or roughly 1,430 joints.
Growing cooperatives of up to 150 people would be allowed, along with the right to smoke marijuana in public. Edible products would be banned.