LATIN AMERICA

Mexico City mayor’s marijuana legalization bill ignites national debate

Leftist party behind proposal remains divided over the issue

A woman smokes cannabis in a pipe during a pro-legalization demonstration in Mexico.
A woman smokes cannabis in a pipe during a pro-legalization demonstration in Mexico.GETTY IMAGES

The mayor of Mexico City has ignited a national debate by calling for a debate on the legalization of marijuana in the capital. But Miguel Ángel Mancera, the mayor and member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), may face an uphill battle after some members of his leftist grouping came out against the proposal.

Public institutions have also warned that Mancera’s proposal risks placing the entire nation in the midst of a policy confrontation with Washington.

Vidal Llerenas and Fernando Belaunzarán, two PRD deputies in the Federal District legislature, are preparing draft bills that call for the legalization of cannabis. These bills, to be presented next month, are expected to be similar to laws passed in the US state of Colorado and last week by the Chamber of Deputies in Uruguay.

While the debate begins to fire up nationally, some PRD members have given Mancera lukewarm support. Mexico City’s health secretary, Armando Ahued, said he favored opening discussions on the issue but added he wasn’t too enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana because, in his point of view, there is no medical benefit to be gained from doing so.

“I believe that before we start discussing legalizing marijuana, we should look for solid drug prevention policies,” said Alejandra Barrales, a PRD senator who is tipped to become a future contender in the Mexico City mayoral race.

The bill is expected to be similar to laws passed in Colorado and Uruguay

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former PRD presidential candidate who split away to form his own leftist party, called Mancera’s proposal “a smokescreen” and said there were other priorities in the capital, such as the creation of jobs and the fight against corruption.

But other national leaders, who have come out in favor of decriminalization of some drugs, have also jumped into the fray. Graco Ramírez, the PRD governor of the state of Morelos, said the legalization of marijuana would help “bring down the drug violence” that has been plaguing Mexico since 2006 and which has caused some 60,000 deaths.

Ramírez has announced a conference in his state to discuss the issue.

Under the PRD leadership, Mexico City has become a trailblazer with regard to liberal laws that conflict with national legislation. Former Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who served from 2006 to 2012, signed measures legalizing abortion and homosexual marriage in the capital during his term in office.

Last month, former President Vicente Fox – a strong proponent of legalization for some drugs as a strategy to curb spiraling violence – organized a symposium at his ranch in Guanajuato state on the matter. Fox is a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN)

But members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have expressed concern about Mayor Marcelo’s proposal. Fernando Cano Valle, national anti-addiction commissioner, said the bill was “unreasonable” and argued that if passed, it would deprioritize services in the capital that offer help to addicts, including alcoholics.