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Mexico's Marijuana Laws Are About to Get Much More Relaxed

President Peña Nieto has proposed raising the non-criminal threshold to one ounce, and legalizing medical uses of marijuana, though he still personally opposes further decriminalization.

by Alan Hernandez
Apr 21 2016, 9:00pm

Photo by Seth Perlman/AP Images

Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced plans to raise the amount of marijuana individuals can carry without risking criminal prosecution from five to 28 grams, or one ounce, as well as to legalize the use of medication elaborated from the plant.

Peña Nieto said this was "a historic step" that stands as a contribution to a "new paradigm" in global drug policy when he announced the reforms on Thursday. He said he would be sending them to the Mexican senate later in the day.

"We Mexicans know all about the range and defects of the prohibitionist approach and the war on drugs of the last 40 years," the president said. "Our country has suffered like few others from the effects of organized crime linked to drug trafficking."

The president promised that the reforms raising the threshold for non-criminal possession will mean that thousands of Mexicans currently behind bars for carrying small amounts of marijuana will be set free.

With regards to medicinal weed, the new moves appear aimed only at permitting the import, sale, and use of such treatments, as well as some scientific research. The president made no mention of allowing legal cultivation within Mexico of any form.

Related: Inside a Clandestine Marijuana Workshop for Cancer Treatments in Mexico

The proposed reforms — that flesh out the basic tenets Peña Nieto first outlined in a speech earlier this week to the special session on drug policy of the General Assembly of the UN — were quickly welcomed by activists.

Javier Romero, a political scientist from the Mexico City-based think tank CIDE, tweeted that the proposal was "insufficient," but that it "goes in the right direction."

"It is the beginning of the end of prohibition," he wrote.

The government's new openness was originally sparked by a landmark supreme court decision last November that gave four individuals the right to use marijuana anyway they want. Another supreme court decision earlier in 2015 had permitted the family of a young girl called Grace to import cannabis-based medication to help reduce her constant and violent seizures.

Related: Mexico Will Never Win Its War on Drugs — But It's Going to Keep Fighting Anyway

Grace's father, Raúl Elizalde García, spoke directly before President Peña Nieto at the announcement on Thursday.

"This plant has reduced the seizures by 80 percent," he said. "My daughter is a different person today than when she started the treatment. It has changed our lives."

But while the reforms appear to put Mexico within the wave of weed liberalization sweeping the continent, President Peña made it clear that he is not personally inclined to go very far with the flow.

In an interview on Radio Fórmula after the announcement, Peña Nieto said he opposes full decriminalization because he believes marijuana leads to the use and abuse of more harmful substances.

The president also said that, while he believed the war on drugs "has evidently failed," there would be no change in his government's military-led strategy to contain the country's powerful drug cartels that is widely blamed for making things worse.

"The paradigms are changing on the issue of drugs and their consumption," he said. "But at the same time we remain completely firm in the combat of organized crime."

Related: Weed and the UN: Why International Drug Laws Won't Stop Legalization

Gabriela Gorbea contributed to this report.

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten