Updated 12:41 PM EDT, Mon, Jun 25, 2018

Mexico City Considering Legalization of Marijuana

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With Uruguay legalizing marijuana nationwide and two U.S. states following suit, many are wondering where the next domino will fall in the cannabis legalization movement. Apparently, it may be next door in Mexico.

Mexico's capital city is considering legislation that would decriminalize marijuana in small amounts and possibly even allow for open sales of the product in Mexico City stores.

According to the Associated Press, the bill is very vague on key points and most members of the city's assembly have not yet made it publicly known whether or not they will endorse such an effort. However, it creates the possibility of establishing a limited zone of legality in the midst of a country that has been plagued with violence associated with the War on Drugs. The country is a natural staging ground for moving illicit drugs, including marijuana, north into the lucrative U.S. market. The option is publicly endorsed by Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera.

It would allow stores in the city to sell up to five grams of marijuana without criminal repercussions.

As in the United States, with the votes to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, a vote to legalize the substance in Mexico City could lead to a conflict between the Federal District and the national government. According to the AP, sponsors of the city's bill are asking their allies in the federal congress to introduce a similar bill that would allow for legalization nationwide.

Mexico relaxed its stance on marijuana somewhat in 2009 decriminalizing possession of up to five grams of marijuana for personal use, and there is also a bill in consideration in federal congress that would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana; however, the sale of any amount of marijuana remains illegal.

"These bills are exciting because they further the hemispheric trend of changing marijuana laws," said Hannah Hetzer, the Montevideo-based policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance to Al Jazeera. "Amidst extreme levels of violence and crime, it is encouraging to see Mexico's capital city attempt to refocus its efforts away from marijuana possession and low-level drug offenses and to invest in reducing violent crime instead."

The United States has long been the strongest advocate of pursuing the War on Drugs, a battle that has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 Mexican citizens since 2006; there are some unconfirmed estimates that top 100,000. With some states officially abandoning that effort, at least as it pertains to marijuana, leaders in other countries affected by the battle over narcotics are left wondering whether or not they should continue to pay the price of complying with Washington's continued insistence on carrying out the struggle.

"The truth is that Mexico has paid a very high price for combating drug traffickers and prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana on its territory, when several cities in the United States have already legalized it," Renato Sales, Mexico's deputy attorney general, told Al Jazeera.

Four former leaders of Latin American nations—Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) and César Gaviria Trujillo (Colombia)—offered a joint letter of support to Mexico City's mayor that has been widely circulated in the international media.

"This is a necessary debate to have for Mexico City, Mexico and the entire region," the statement reads. "Something needs to change as 40 years of immense efforts and funds failed to reduce both the production and consumption of illicit drugs. In Mexico and Central America, the violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking represent a significant threat to public security and democratic stability."

The statement continues, "We congratulate Mancera for the compromises he has made and the confident leadership he has displayed in trying to design better drug policies."

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has also been vocal in the call for legalizing marijuana, having seen the effects the War on Drugs had on his country during the years of his administration.

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