Cancun, Mexico; photo via Dronepicr
Mexico's tourism minister called for full legalization of adult-use cannabis in two of the country's major tourist locations last week, arguing that doing so would disempower the drug cartels responsible for a growing wave of violence in the country. Minister Enrique de la Madrid told reporters at a Mexico City press conference that his country should follow the example of the U.S. and allow individual states to legalize full recreational use. “It’s absurd that we’re not taking this step as a country,” he said, according to Reuters.
De la Madrid told reporters that cannabis should first be legalized in the states of Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, home to the popular Cancun and Los Cabos resorts. These areas have seen a drastic increase in homicides over the past several years as a result of increased drug cartel activity. Last year, the total number of homicides in the country increased to over 29,000, making 2017 the bloodiest year the country has seen in the past several decades. The tourist minister argued that allowing these states to legalize pot would weaken the grip of drug cartels by cutting into their profits.
De la Madrid's vocal support of legalization drew immediate criticism in the press. Presidential candidate Margarita Zavala tweeted that “it is naive to believe that legalizing marijuana will reduce crime rates,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in the El Universal newspaper this weekend that “when the law enforcement agenda is being set by the tourism secretary, something is not working,” according to the Associated Press. Hours after his pro-legalization interview, De la Madrid walked back his controversial stance a bit, tweeting a statement “to emphatically say that my opinion on legalizing marijuana was a personal comment.”
Full legalization in Mexico seems unlikely in the near future, as a majority of voters and church leaders oppose the idea. Still, support is slowly growing for cannabis reform among the country’s political leaders. In 2016, President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed a bill to allow personal possession of up to an ounce of cannabis. This bill stalled in the country's legislature, but a bill to legalize medical cannabis passed last year with nearly unanimous support. Earlier this year, Mexico City mayoral candidate Salomon Chertorivski also floated the idea of recreational legalization as an effective deterrent to cartel-related violence.