Mexico and Israel Slowly Race To Legalize Pot

Uruguay legalized recreational marijuana in 2013, followed by Canada five years later. Two more countries will soon join their ranks.


Mexico and Israel are racing to become the third country where marijuana is legal for recreational use at the national level. Racing may be too strong a word, because both governments are moving more slowly than originally advertised. But both are officially committed to joining Uruguay and Canada on the short list of countries that allow adults to consume cannabis without a medical justification.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that pot prohibition was unconstitutional because it violated "the fundamental right to the free development of the personality." Although the court originally required the Mexican Congress to legalize cannabis within 90 days, it has repeatedly extended the deadline because of the legislature's difficulties in settling on a detailed plan.

In November 2020, the Mexican Senate approved a legalization bill, sending it to the Chamber of Deputies, which was supposed to act on it by December 15. But the lower chamber asked for another extension and now has until the end of April to complete its work.

Under the Senate bill, adults 18 or older would be allowed to buy marijuana from state-licensed retailers, possess up to 28 grams (about an ounce), and grow up to six plants for personal use. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, while expressing concern about technical "mistakes" in the bill, nevertheless said he was confident a law would be enacted early in 2021.

Around the same time that the Mexican Senate passed its bill, the Israeli government, based on recommendations from a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced a plan to let adults 21 or older buy and consume cannabis. Public consumption, home cultivation, advertising, and the sale of edibles that resemble candy would be prohibited. The plan says the government should "ensure the prices are reasonable" to help displace the black market.

Legalization was backed by both parties in Israel's coalition government: Netanyahu's Likud bloc and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz's Blue and White alliance. Legislation was supposed to be introduced in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in November and take effect nine months after passage.

That plan fell by the boards, and a national election scheduled for March introduced additional uncertainty. But as of December, the cannabis companies that serve Israel's medical market were still confident that legalization would proceed no matter the election outcome.

Uruguay legalized recreational marijuana in 2013, followed by Canada five years later. In the U.S., cannabis has been legalized for recreational use in 15 states and D.C. but is still banned by federal law.