Late last night, lawmakers in Mexico’s lower house overwhelmingly approved a bill to legalize the use, cultivation, and sale of recreational marijuana. Observers expect the higher chamber to pass the bill by a comfortable margin and be signed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. This move will make Mexico the third nation – following Uruguay (2013) and Canada (2018) – to legalize recreational marijuana.
This is a welcome step, but it does not go far enough. Proponents argue that legalization will dramatically reduce cartel violence. Yet opponents argue – probably correctly – that due to years of steady movement towards legalization, marijuana no longer represents a core component of drug trafficking. And the data bear this out: from 2015–2019 federal marijuana trafficking offenses in the United States decreased by over 50 percent.
If the objective is to reduce drug‐related violence in the Americas, the solution is to legalize all drugs. This will eliminate black markets and cartels, by removing the incentive to use violence in resolving disputes related to the underground trade. In addition, broader legalization will allow competition to drive improvements in quality and safety, reducing the risks of drug use.
A second problem is that the proposed legalization regime is overly restrictive. The bill limits the amounts of marijuana that individuals may possess, creates bureaucratic hurdles for those interested in cultivating marijuana for private use, and keeps severe punishments in place for those violating possession limits. Overregulation will keep the market underground, undoing one of legalization’s key benefits.
This move is a step in the right direction for Mexico. But sustained and substantial progress in improving the well‐being of drug users, and reducing the harm from drug prohibition‐induced violence, requires even more.