Latin America Legislation and Policy

A Sign of Greater Things to Come? Cannabis activists in Mexico celebrate recent victories and hope for more

On June 28th, Mexico’s Supreme Court reaffirmed its 2019 decision on cannabis:  Prohibition is unconstitutional. It might not be the World Cup, but to activists in Mexico City it felt close to that. Days later, they gathered around the Angel of Independence, the monument to the country’s 100th anniversary of the revolt against Spanish rule. It is often the site of revelry after big soccer wins, other celebrations and protests. The statue of Nike (the Greek god of victory) covered in gold leaf floats atop a 118-foot column just blocks from the Senate building and where cannabis activists had set the camp planTON420 or “Plant-in 420”, a sit-in held there for more than a year. The aim was to pressure the Senate to regulate a cannabis market.

Enthusiasts and regular folks joined the protest. Drivers and pedestrians were sure to catch a whiff of smoke. Finally, late last year, the Senate created and passed a bill and sent it to the Chamber of Deputies who changed it and returned it to the Senate, which decided not to act on it this past April. The updated bill was just too different from the original. That final step threw legalization efforts into limbo. Activists thought that nothing would happen until the fall at the earliest if Congress decided to act at all.

However, in a stunning development, the Supreme Court once again took up the issue, reaffirmed its previous decísion, but also opened a path for adults to legally grow and consume cannabis with a permit. More importantly, it marked the end of 101 years of prohibition and what many hope will mark the beginning of the end of the Drug War.

For Julio Zenil from Mexico City, it’s a big step forward after 20 years of activism. An arrest placed him on this path. He and some friends were caught driving with about 5 grams of cannabis and were jailed for a night, which confirmed two things for him. First, the laws forbade a good and natural substance. Zenil says, “It was absurd given the history of the plant and its multiple uses.” Second, the laws were ineffective. “That night in jail, other prisoners offered me a joint,” he says. That experience pushed him to educate himself on the plant in the United States and Europe. He also imported cannabis products to sell among friends and family.

The challenges have shifted over the years, but he still believes education is key to creating change. Early in his activism, many people thought that clothes made from hemp fiber could be smoked. Now, with greater freedom Zenil wants to use science and tradition to dispel any dread, “The plant has deep roots in our country. Everyone in Mexico knows someone who consumes it or uses it for home remedies.”

A run-in with police also motivated Leopoldo Rivera to work against prohibition. “We knew we weren’t criminals. We weren’t harming anyone,” he says. Rivera, also from Mexico City, became part of the Movimiento Cannábico Mexicano, an umbrella organization that brings together disparate groups working toward legalization and regulation. He also joined the Asociación Mexicana Sobre Estudios de Cannabis, or AMECA, a non profit that educates the public on the plant. Both organizations have been part of the slow battle, and this recent win.

However, he wants to see a greater victory in allowing small growers and small businesses a piece of the large cannabis pie. Rivera says, “We want to be allowed to grow it and to have access to the market. We don’t want to be swallowed up by powerful interests if the market opens up.” That part of the game is still in play.


For more information on the groups mentioned in the article, please visit their websites:




Movimiento Cannábico Mexicano


Asociación Mexicana Sobre Estudios de Cannabis

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Juan Carlos Hernandez

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