Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently proposed legalizing medicinal marijuana. As President EPN stated in an address to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, Mexico “is one of the nations that have paid a high price, an excessive price, in terms of tranquility, suffering and human lives.” Mexico is well known in the US for its terrible cartel-related violence. The country has suffered over 100,000 deaths and 20,000 unresolved kidnappings in the past ten years as a result of violence between gangs, as well as between gangs and security forces. Mexico’s ranking as one of the top cannabis producers and exporters worldwide has brought upon terrible consequences, but the industry is not solely to blame, and looking to cannabis to cure all of Mexico’s problems may be placing too much importance on the plant’s role in society.

Medicinal Marijuana Alone Won’t Cure Cartel Blight  

Though personally opposed to legalizing marijuana in any form, Nieto seeks an end to the senseless death stemming from the drug war, and he is not alone. Mexico’s Supreme Court recently protected the rights of four individuals to produce and consume marijuana recreationally. Mexican civilians are also doing what they can to help improve understanding of the drug’s role within Mexican culture. José “Pepe” Rivera Pallán and other activists with the Instituto Mexicano del Cánnabis study the present situation and extract data that guides the legislative process.

MERRY JANE sat down with Rivera Pallán to gain insight into just how the latest shift in favor of medicinal marijuana might affect cartels, and whether or not the consumption of cannabis is gaining widespread support in Mexico.

To understand why medicinal marijuana, even if it were completely supported by politicians and the Supreme Court, can’t fix the problem of cartels, one needs to understand the pervasiveness of cartels into every facet of Mexican life.

As Pallán explains, “Cartels aren’t fixed, they’re flexible. They can adapt, they can change.”

If one were to remove the cartels’ ability to profit off of the drug war, they would simply move on to terrorize society through another sector.

As it is, “More than half of the industry in Mexico is infiltrated by cartels. They’ve diversified, and part of the way that they make money is through violence, through kidnappings. And that’s not going to change.”

To stop the cartels, according to Pallán, Mexico needs, “Police who go after people who are killing people, who are being violent, who are committing extortion against business owners – real crimes.”

Would legalizing medicinal marijuana help control cartels? In and of itself, no; only through serious changes in authorities’ tactics will the cartels face any real challenges. With the latest proposed changes, says Rivera Pallán, “they are just patching up the system, but they’re not changing it – and if they don’t do that, the drug war isn’t going to end.”

Even when opening up a dialogue regarding medicinal marijuana, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto made clear that this would not be the start of a conversation regarding “the consumption of drugs much more harmful to personal and public health.” In the end, Mexicans “can’t really expect politicians to solve this, to end this,” Rivera Pallán says.

A New Model Needed

The primary actors in Mexico’s political landscape today are sorely out of touch with cannabis. Recent legislative proposals would regulate three strains of cannabis, “Indica, Sativa, and Americana.” By referencing Cannabis Americana, a “strain” created by pharmaceutical companies as part of a marketing ploy during the ‘Golden Age of Cannabis’ in the early 20th century, Mexico’s legislators reveal they are drafting laws based on a 100 year-old understanding of the cannabis industry and culture. Mexican politicians are not eager to take action.

Mexico, along with Colombia and Guatemala, had called for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, though EPN soon announced he would no longer attend.

The Mexican president had previously stated numerous times he did not support legalizing cannabis consumption, nor did he believe doing so would reduce crime. Nieto even stated legalizing marijuana would “put at risk the health of Mexican youth.” After scorning the UNGASS his country had called for, EPN only reversed course after intense domestic criticism.  

While the general populace of Mexico does not support legalizing recreational use of marijuana, most Mexicans believe in the power of medical cannabis and support its legalization. Polls show 70% of Mexicans are opposed to recreational cannabis use, though 64% support medicinal cannabis. Practically everyone’s abuela creates cannabis extracts known as ‘friegas,’ used to treat a variety of ailments. Clearly, the average Mexican has understood the benefits of medicinal use for a long time, even if their legislators are only now catching up to speed.  

A Step Toward a More Peaceful Future  

In a country rattled by cartel-related violence, it’s easy to wish for a quick fix. However, what Mexico needs more than anything is a “paradigm shift,” as Pallán calls for. To that end, Pallán and the IMC, along with activist supporters in Mexico and worldwide, work to create a political reality governed by “scientific regulation, based in compassion.”

The IMC is calling for participants worldwide to join its community and be a part of the solution (Pallán noted that IMC activists do speak English). Thought not a cure-all, the latest developments in Mexico’s nascent medical marijuana movement are helping increase awareness among the public and politicians about a subculture that has lain taboo in the shadows for far too long. That is something Mexicans from every sector of society, cartels aside, should be grateful for.