Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, and that makes the United States the first country in the world to offer fully legal cannabis. But the club is about to get a lot bigger.
Each of our neighbors, to the north and to the south, is looking at possible legalization within a matter of months or a few years. But which is going to get there first, Canada or Mexico? And could the United States beat them to the punch?
First, as a practical matter, no, the American government will probably not legalize marijuana until long after the drug is allowed in Mexico and Canada. Those countries are poised to act soon; legalization in the United States is likely to continue state by state, and that could take a long time.
Canada’s new Liberal government offers hope for reform
Hope for reform is strongest north of the border, where Canadian voters recently swept a new government into power. Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau is the country’s new prime minister, and he promised during the campaign that he would push for full legalization.
It’s not clear when Trudeau plans to act on that promise, but expectations are high. Support for legal cannabis is strong, and medical marijuana is already widely popular. The switch to full legalization shouldn’t be a big leap for Canada, even though Conservative politicians have fought it for years.
The elections were seen as a blunt rejection of the Conservative Party and its leader, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Conservatives were known for their American-style right-wing politics, including their opposition to MMJ and any other type of drug reform.
Does cannabis prohibition violate the Mexican national constitution?
At the other end of the continent, a legal case currently pending in the Mexican court system offers hope in that country. The Mexican Supreme Court is considering whether cannabis prohibition violates the national constitution, specifically a clause that protects the right to free development of the individual personality.
A determination by the court that cannabis is protected doesn’t necessarily mean the drug would be legalized, at least not right away. That would require an act of the Mexican Congress, though a judicial decision would increase the likelihood of such a law.
No one has cast solid odds on how that case will play out, but medical cannabis is already technically legal (if not easily obtained), and some districts have moved to decriminalize the drug, including Mexico City.
Mexico has suffered from the illegal drug trade
The motives for reform in Mexico are obvious. The country and its people have suffered more than any other from the violent side effects of the illegal drug trade. Massive criminal cartels are still common across the country, though violence along the U.S. border has declined rapidly in recent months.
Over the last eight years, since President Felipe Calderon kicked off a massive anti-drug campaign across Mexico, roughly 100,000 people have died and another 25,000 have disappeared, presumably killed by cartels.
Legalizing marijuana would remove the drug from cartels’ control. This alone could cripple much of the illegal drug flow in Mexico. And it would take a massive financial bounty from criminals and give it to the public and their government instead.