Often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day (which is September 16), Cinco de Mayo commemorates the country’s morale-boosting victory over the French in a battle in the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). In the east-central Mexico town of Pueblo de Los Angeles, a poorly supplied army of 2,000 faced 6,000 invading French soldiers on May 5, 1862. Despite these incredible odds against them, the Mexicans drove the French to retreat after claiming nearly 500 French lives, losing fewer than 100 of their own. The unlikely outcome, though ultimately of little strategic significance, shaped the war by igniting and stoking a fire of rebellion in the masses. The people were so energized by the victory that it is still celebrated to this day.
In 2021, the oppressive invaders aren’t foreign colonizers; they’re the soldiers of Mexican drug cartels. And the people aren’t using heavy artillery to defend themselves (well, not all the people anyhow); they’re using the legislative process. Once again, they are facing a situation in which they are up against a seemingly unconquerable enemy whose forces are more powerful in every way conceivable – financially, militarily and often politically. Will they have their own Battle of Puebla? And, more importantly, will they emerge the victor?
Referring specifically to the issue of cannabis, the proverbial Puebla is Mexico City. There, the country’s federal government has been debating legalizing weed ever since the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that it was unconstitutional to ban cannabis. Today, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has already signaled his approval of the bill submitted to achieve that, a revised version of the Senate-approved March 2021 bill. The legislation is now awaiting final Senate approval, which would legalize pot production and sale for recreational use – medicinal use is already legal – while creating a private market regulated by the government. With a final vote not expected until September, the outcome is as hard to predict as Puebla’s was. Yet, the people’s vigorous desire for it is on par with post-Puebla sentiment in 1862.
Will legalization be as far-reaching in its impact as defeating outside forces? By no means. But is it a fight worth enlisting in? ¡Sin duda! Although crime isn’t expected to drop precipitously as a result of introducing a public-private-sector cannabis market, security for the broader public is. Pot is something that’s in demand regardless of its legal status – not unlike in the U.S. and many other nations. And if open purchases of cannabis at government-regulated stores can replace dangerous back-alley deals in crime-ridden neighborhoods, that’s a great start alone. Being exposed to drastically fewer threats while engaging in an activity proven to align organically with supply-and-demand economics is in everyone’s interest. This and other secondary effects of legalization (e.g., reduced cannabis-related incarceration) justify the energy behind the country-wide push for legalization.
Just as Puebla pitted townsfolk against an empire, pot pits civilians against parastatal militias. One can only hope that, come September (or sooner), another surprise victory will become a part of Mexico’s history.
Kathleen Hearons is an editor, writer, voice over actor and avid cinephile. She lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.