Last updated: 10:30 AM ET, Mon May 02 2016

Opinion Home | Magic of Mexico

  • Greg Custer | May 2, 2016 10:30 AM ET

    Say What? Weed Legalization in Mexico?

    Say What? Weed Legalization in Mexico?

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

    It’s a brave new world in Mexico. It seems there’s no end to the “Say what?” news in this the Western Hemisphere’s most evolving democracy. If you peek beyond the rhetorical and resort walls, what’s happening may challenge your view of Mexico as the land of mañana. So let’s pause in this election year to contemplate our distant neighbor and the societal and political debates that are reshaping the Mexico you sell to customers.

    Writer Glen Olives Thompson wrote last week about how (despite our close ties) we Americans don’t know about much about Mexico. The same applies to Mexicans looking north. It’s true, most Americans are either blind to their southern neighbor, or we form an opinion from vacation visits, a fleeting chat with the guy who mows our lawn, or current election hyperbole about our immigration mess. As a full-time Mexico resident, I see how North Americans who reside here (totaling some 1 million) are sometimes no better informed, as socio-economic and linguistic walls still divide the gringos from their neighbors.

    Are we witnessing a watershed moment in Mexico’s climb toward a 21st century democracy? And what does all this reform mean to Mexico’s booming tourism economy?

    Mexican leaders and public opinion wrestles with issues from the intractable to the inane: education reform, bullfighting’s morality, trade union opaqueness, protecting journalists, putting the military back in the barracks, the rights of women, and poverty abatement. There are also the less strident reforms of recent times, like the banning of salt shakers on restaurant tables in Mexico City (blood pressure abatement), or how you get a 75 percent reduction in traffic tickets if you pay the fine within seven days (does that mean your original peccadillo was only 25 percent wrong?).

    So it’s with this background of societal stirrings we learn last week Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s intent to send legislation to congress to significantly liberalize Mexico’s draconian “mariguana” restrictions.

    The new law would open medical weed and up the personal possession limit to about an ounce. One could conclude this is just another case of Mexico adopting a trending U.S. topic, as so often happens in the post-NAFTA world. However, some 70 percent of Mexicans say they are against liberalization. That’s not exactly a tipping point.  Are American travelers demanding this reform, with “I want my weed” boycotts of countries that don’t permit marijuana use? Of course not. A more likely cause Is it societal and personal fatigue from a catastrophic war against drug transit routes crisscrossing Mexico that all point toward satisfying U.S. consumers.

    No matter where you stand on the marijuana issue, drug use liberalization was an unthinkable issue to champion just a few months ago. What’s telling is how this taboo has suddenly become a political priority. It’s as if Mexico’s people and leaders know things must change, but can’t decide where to start.

    It’s likely we are years away from a “Jamaica-fication” of the Mexico resort landscape. But it’s today that Mexico is in the throes of a transition like no other nation in our Hemisphere. It’s not always pretty to watch, but we’d better start seeing our neighbor as more than a beach playground or political piñata for what might or might not make America “great again.” What happens in Mexico most certainly will not stay in Mexico.


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Greg Custer Magic of Mexico

Greg Custer Greg Custer is a California native with more than 35 years working in various international travel industry capacities. He spent 14 years in aviation (TWA, Mexicana, Aerocalifornia). With a love for studying all things Latin America, (BA/MA UCLA, Latin American Studies) he is a leading authority on travel agent educational programs for Latin American tourism boards. Greg is fluent in written and spoken Spanish and has conducted hundreds of training workshops for travel agents. He is an accomplished travel photographer and author (with wife Jane) of the “Magic of Mexico” travel agent study guide. He resides in Ajijic (Jalisco) Mexico, enjoying one foot in the modern world and the other in Mexican pueblo life.
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