Mexico is about to legalize marijuana, which will put pressure on Biden to do the same | Opinion

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Andres Oppenheimer
·4 min read
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Mexico’s likely approval of a law legalizing marijuana — possibly next month — could make it the world’s most populated country to authorize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. That would have a big impact on the United States.

Some marijuana industry advocates, such as Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox, say the country’s expected passage of this law will push the Biden administration to legalize weed at the federal level in the United States.

On March 10, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved the marijuana-legalization bill, which the pro-government majority Senate is expected to pass. It then would be signed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mexico’s Supreme Court has given an April 30 deadline for Congress to pass the bill.

Fox, who is on the board of the Khiron Life Sciences Corp. — a Colombian-Canadian partnership that sells marijuana for medical uses — told me that he expects Mexico to become a major exporter of legal marijuana to the United States.

“The new bill leaves the door open to imports and exports of marijuana products,” Fox said in an interview. “And marijuana production is five times cheaper in Mexico than in the United States.”

Even if U.S. or Mexican authorities place regulatory hurdles, Fox said that, “Mexico will take advantage of this opportunity. There are 1 million border crossings a day to and from Mexico to the United States, and Mexico will have a big (price) advantage in U.S. states where marijuana is not legal.”

Mexico’s legalization of cannabis would come two years after Canada authorized the possession, sale and distribution of the product. That means that the United States would be sandwiched between two major markets that allow marijuana for medical and recreational use.

“If the whole world is going in that direction, the United States won’t stay behind,” Fox told me.

Mexico, with a population of 130 million, would be the world’s biggest legal-marijuana market, followed by Canada, with a population of 38 million. In 2013, Uruguay was the first country to legalize production, consumption and sales of marijuana.

Fox foresees the day in which the United States, Canada and Mexico will produce and export marijuana to the rest of the world. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, “It will be an impressive boom,” he told me.

Biden has not yet indicated support for legalizing pot for recreational use nationally. More than 30 states already allow marijuana sales for medical use, and 14 others have legalized consumption for recreational use. There are high expectations among marijuana advocates that Biden will at least de-criminalize marijuana nationally.

Most cannabis research firms are skeptical about Fox’s forecast that Mexico’s legal marijuana sales will skyrocket. Marijuana consumption is still low in Mexico, there will be many regulatory burdens and it will take years for the cannabis business to develop, they say.

A preliminary estimate by the Chicago-based Brightfield Group, a cannabis research firm, says the Mexican market will hit $327 million by 2025. By comparison, the firm expects the U.S. market to grow to $45 billion in 2025.

Also, many experts doubt the 1-million-a-day border crossings will translate into massive marijuana smuggling, because of strict customs controls. Still, there will be an impact on the United States, they say.

Jamie Schau, Brightfield’s research manager, says that Mexico’s legalization would put more pressure on neighboring U.S. states that have not legalized marijuana, such as Texas and New Mexico, to move toward legalization.

“Texas and New Mexico have massive populations that are influenced by Mexico’s culture,” Schau told me. “If it becomes more normalized by Mexico’s population to use it, more culturally accepted, less demonized, the fear around it will subside.”

Mexico’s legalization of pot “could also have some potential impact on Florida and even markets where it’s legal,” because, “There will be a wider de-stigmatization, and that leads to more acceptance,” she told me.

I agree. We probably won’t see the “impressive boom” in Mexico’s legal pot sales to the United States that Fox talks about, or a North American legal weed market, anytime soon.

But as late Mexican Nobel laureate poet Octavio Paz once told me, “Geography is the mother of history.” If both Mexico and Canada have legalized marijuana, it will be only a matter of time until it spills over to the United States.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera