Members of the Mexican Senate’s United Commissions of Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies are holding a hearing this week to debate a revised cannabis legalization bill, with hopes of advancing it to a full Senate vote by next Tuesday.
Lawmakers are scrambling to pass the bill by December 15th, a deadline imposed by Mexico's Supreme Court. The road to legalization began in 2018, when the court ruled that the prohibition of cannabis violated citizens’ constitutional rights. The court set a one-year deadline for the country to fully legalize weed, but lawmakers were unable to reach a consensus by that date. The Supreme Court extended the deadline, and were forced to extend it again when the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the country this spring.
The current deadline is now one month away, but Senate President Eduardo Ramírez said that senators have agreed to pass the bill in time. Committee members are scheduled to debate the bill this Friday, and hope to advance it to a full vote by next Tuesday. “Surely in the next few days it will be resolved,” said Ramírez, Marijuana Moment reports.
In many ways, Mexico's adult-use bill mirrors similar legislation in Canada and adult-use US states. A government regulatory agency would license businesses to produce cannabis products which would then be sold via licensed stores. Adults aged 18 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of weed each, and possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized.
Unlike most US states, Mexicans will be able to smoke weed in public, except in places where tobacco is banned, or places where children or young adults could be exposed to secondhand smoke. Each household will be also able to grow up to six pot plants.
The bill still retains several controversial elements, however. Most unusually, the bill would require any adult who wants to smoke weed legally to specifically apply for a government license. Critics of the bill have argued that the extra effort and privacy concerns brought on by this requirement will discourage many adults from registering as a cannabis user. These unregistered users would be unable to buy weed legally, and therefore would likely continue supporting the black market.
Legalization advocates criticized the original draft of the bill over concerns that it would shut local farmers out of the weed industry in favor of big business. The current draft of the bill would grant 40 percent of cannabis licenses to businesses from indigenous, low-income, or marginalized communities for the first five years of legalization. Activists still believe more work needs to be done to ensure that wealthy corporations do not dominate the industry, however.
“The truth is we’re just a few weeks away from the vote and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Julio Salazar, senior lawyer and legalization advocate with the nonprofit group Mexico United Against Crime, to The Yucatan Times. “I’m not sure if the initiative being pushed by Congress actually makes things better. It makes a cannabis market for the rich and continues to use criminal law to perpetuate a drug war that has damaged the poorest people with the least opportunities.”
“We want a legal framework that can bring some of these players in from the illegal market into a legal one,” said Zara Snapp, co-founder of the Instituto RIA, a drug policy research and advocacy group, to The Yucatan Times. “The purchase price needs to be low enough to undercut the illegal market for consumers… You also have to make sure there are enough entry points for (growers) to move over.”
Snapp told Marijuana Moment that the bill “still has a chance to be improved with changes to the currently punitive approach... This is an opportunity for them to legislate in a way that will have the social impact that we all desire, but changes are necessary. This can be a historic opportunity to begin to repair the harms of prohibition.”
If the Senate manages to pass the bill next week, it will still need to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the second chamber of Mexico's Congress. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador must also sign the bill, but he has already indicated that he hopes to enact an adult-use law by the court-imposed deadline.