In February, Mexico City lawmakers introduced two bills that would decriminalize and regulate the consumption of marijuana in the Mexican capital. Possession of marijuana for personal and medical uses would no longer be subject to incarceration as a first response, and legal marijuana dispensaries would be allowed in the capital. Mexico City’s move follows others in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado, which approved initiatives by popular vote in late 2012 to legalize and regulate the personal use of marijuana for adults 21 and older, as well as commercial cultivation, manufacture and sale.
Together with Uruguay, which became the first country to legalize the growing, selling and smoking of marijuana last year, the governments of Mexico City, Washington state and Colorado are pioneering an experimental approach that may speed up drug legalization on the continent. For now, these approaches remain illegal under the federal laws of Mexico and the United States, but with the influence of drug cartels and the levels of violence and crime associated with drugs increasing, more countries across the Western hemisphere and beyond are considering alternative, and in some cases more liberal, approaches to the war on drugs.
A number of U.S. states have already experimented with the decriminalization of medical marijuana since 1996, when California passed Proposition 215 to allow the personal medical use of the substance. Only in 2009 did U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder establish that the federal government would not make the prosecution of patients or their caregivers who were complying with state laws a priority of federal law enforcement. At the same time, the federal government has repeatedly raided large-scale producers and commercial marijuana operations. However, the federal government has refrained from confiscating revenue from the medical marijuana trade as proceeds from illegal transactions. In Colorado, which decriminalized medical marijuana in 2000, this revenue amounted to more than $2.2 million from the state sales taxes paid on medical marijuana in 2010. Similarly, a number of other state and local jurisdictions in the U.S. are currently collecting between 2.5 percent and 7 percent of gross receipts from the decriminalized medical sale of the substance.