Mexico's Plan to Legalize Marijuana May Pressure Texas to Expand Medical-Only Restriction

Mexico's Chamber of Deputies passed a bill on Wednesday that would fully legalize marijuana nationwide. If the bill passes the country's Senate, it could force the bordering state of Texas to reconsider its current restrictions that only allow low-dose marijuana products for people with certain medical conditions.

Mexico's bill would allow people over the age of 18 to possess up to nearly one ounce of cannabis and between six to eight plants in a home with an annual permit. It would also allow people to smoke it publicly like tobacco.

The country's Supreme Court gave legislators a deadline of April 30 to legalize it after declaring its criminalization unconstitutional in 2018. Because the Chamber and Senate are both controlled by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's MORENA political party, the measure is expected to pass, according to Vice News. Obrador has said he won't oppose the law.

While Mexico was once a major supplier of marijuana to the Lone Star State, smugglers from Colorado, California and Oregon have begun bringing legalized recreational marijuana from those states into Texas, Dean Becker, an expert in drug policy, told The Houston Chronicle.

marijuana cannabis Mexico Texas medical legalization border
With Mexico poised to legalize marijuana nationwide as late as next month, its legalization may put pressure on the bordering state of Texas to reconsider its current restrictions which currently allow certain kinds of low-dose cannabis products for specific medical conditions. In this May 6, 2017 photo, activists march along Reforma avenue in Mexico City on demanding the legalization of cannabis. Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty

Recreational marijuana is currently illegal in Texas, though the state allows for people with specific medical conditions to use low-dose cannabis products.

The Texas market for Mexican marijuana could grow if smugglers are suddenly able to transport nearby quantities into the state. The drug's legalization could also disrupt the violence and trafficking networks established by Mexican cartels. However, those cartels will remain active in the U.S. as they also make hundreds of millions from selling cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs stateside, drug policy experts told The Washington Post.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that he supports decriminalization efforts to reduce penalties for small-scale possession. In 2019, state legislators introduced a dozen bills to decriminalize the drug and legalize its recreational use. But the state's crawl towards legalization has been slow.

In 2015, Abbott signed a bill allowing people with epilepsy to obtain oils containing less than 0.5 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana's psychoactive compound. In 2019, the governor signed another bill allowing people with other medical conditions, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, to access the oils too.

In June 2019, the Texas legislature signed a law legalizing hemp, cannabis plants containing less than 0.3 percent of THC. The law also legalized the statewide sale of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabis compound. People use hemp- and CBD-based products to treat anxiety, insomnia and other conditions, though the Food and Drug Administration hasn't recognized its uses.

Six months after the 2019 law passed, the state's cannabis prosecutions dropped by half because prosecutors and state crime labs said they didn't have the resources to test the exact THC content of marijuana.

In June 2020, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state's largest law enforcement agency, ordered officers to no longer arrest people for misdemeanor marijuana possession. While misdemeanor possession is still punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine, some of the state's cities, counties and prosecutors have stopped prosecuting people for it.

It's possible that Texas may accelerate marijuana legalization efforts if Mexican cannabis imports begin flooding the state. More U.S. states are legalizing it, and less than 20 percent of registered Texan voters object to its legalization, according to a 2018 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

As such, it's likely the state will adopt increasingly permissive policies towards the drug rather than re-enter an age of renewed prohibition as Mexico legalizes it.

Newsweek contacted Abbott's office for comment.