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Straight Talk About Using Drugs in Cancun, Mexico

We are asked at least once or twice a day "Are drugs legal in Cancun?" and "How much trouble will I be in if I get caught with drugs in Cancun?" There are a lot of ways to answer these questions and I have heard them all from ex-pats living here in Cancun. It is really hard to get a straight answer about laws because in my experience even the police are lacking in the knowledge of their own legal system.

This can be a good thing if you are can think quickly and speak some Spanish. This can also be a bad thing because they could just take you to jail and let the judge figure it out. So whenever someone asks me about drugs being legal or illegal in Mexico I have two answers, one is what the law says and the other is reality.

Let's start with the legal aspect of the question. Here is the State Department's warning to Spring breakers:

"Alcohol is involved in the vast majority of arrests, accidents, violent crimes, rapes, and deaths suffered by American students on Spring Break. Disturbing the peace, lewd or indecent behavior, littering, driving under the influence, drinking on the street or on public transportation, using public transportation without payment, or making obscene or insulting remarks are all considered criminal activities by Mexican authorities. The importation, purchase, possession or use of drugs can incur severe penalties, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried, and imprisonment of several years following a conviction. All individuals 16 years of age or older are tried as adults."

Sounds pretty serious, huh? Well it is and it isn't. The Mexican government legalized the possession of very small amounts of drugs for personal consumption in 2009. Below are the amounts that are legal to possess under Federal Law. When I say small amounts I mean very small amounts.

Definition of small amounts of drugs for personal use in Mexico

Now here comes the reality part of my answer. Before the changes in the law, ALL drug related offenses were handled by the Federal Police. Since 2009 the cases with small amounts are handled by the local police. This is where it starts to get a bit sticky and hard to explain to people that haven't had the pleasure of paying a bribe or "mordita" to any of Mexico's Finest. If you get caught with drugs in Cancun I can almost guarantee you that 99% of the time you can get out of it with by paying a bribe. How much of a bribe you ask? This is the part that is really hard to say because it depends on many factors. I know some people are saying "I can't believe you are paying bribes to cops, this only encourages corruption." Well that is all well and good, but if you have been caught with drugs then police corruption may be your new best friend.

Would you go on vacation to New York or Miami and be out looking to score drugs? Is it really worth the risk? I wouldn't take the chance of ruining an awesome vacation by ending up in a jail cell that is meant to hold a couple guys filled with 20-30 other people that have had the misfortune of ending up in jail for God knows what. I have friends that have lived here for more than ten years and have never once been approached by someone selling drugs. I, on the other hand, can't walk more than a few feet without some guy saying "I got what you need, bro". I say "to each their own" but beware of the consequences of you actions before you run out to the beach asking everyone you see if they have some blow!

All those horrible stories you have heard or imagined about the jails in Mexico are all true and in some cases much worse.
So my advice is to just say no, but if you find yourself in the hands of the law and they tell you that you can pay them some cash and let you go, then by all means pay it if you can and negotiate a smaller amount if you can't.

This is by no means meant to be taken as legal advice and if you do end up in jail please don't call me crying saying "But you said...!"