MEXICO CITY – Mexico opened on Tuesday the first of five debates that could lead to changes in the country’s prohibitionist marijuana laws, as a top official acknowledged public support for medical cannabis.
President Enrique Peña Nieto, who personally opposes legalization, launched the forums after the Supreme Court opened the door to recreational use of marijuana in a country beset by drug cartel violence for the past decade.
“This is an issue that has directly or indirectly affected the lives of millions of Mexicans,” Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said at the start of the forum, which was broadcast online.
“Such a delicate issue cannot be left to improvisation,” he said in the Caribbean coast city of Cancún, where experts were invited to debate the drug’s effects on public health and addiction.
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Legalization supporters argue that decriminalizing marijuana would strip drug cartels of a major source of revenue and reduce violence that has killed tens of thousands of people. Peña Nieto has rejected such arguments, but he indicated that his government would be open to changing the laws, depending on the outcome of the debate. Osorio Chong strongly hinted that the administration was open to the medical use of marijuana, noting that there is a “majority [of public] opinion” in favor of such uses.
The government, he said, “is completely open to measures that improve the quality of life” of its citizens.
A senator from Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party has introduced legislation that would authorize medical marijuana.
The moves in Mexico are part of a growing debate in the region on legalizing marijuana. In December, the president of Colombia, a country also beset by drug violence, signed a decree legalizing medical marijuana.
Uruguay has created a regulated market for pot, while Chile’s Congress is considering a bill to legalize the drug.
In the United States — the biggest consumer of drugs from Mexico — 23 states have legalized medical marijuana use, while four states plus the U.S. capital have legalized its recreational use.