After its capital city recognized the right to publicly consume cannabis last Wednesday, on the following day, the Mexican state of Oaxaca took another huge step towards defending the rights of the country’s cannabis consumers and producers by granting 26 medical cultivation permits to its Indigenous communities.

The step was seen as a victory for Native communities across Mexico, many of whom have been growing unlicensed cannabis for generations. The War on Drugs has been rough on these groups: pressured on one side by drug-trafficking organizations, their crops have also made them a target for law enforcement raids.

But prior to the Oaxaca permits, entry into Mexico’s budding medicinal market was difficult for the rural communities, given strict licensing requirements. In response, cannabis Campesino movements have sprung up based on the principles espoused by Mexican Revolution leader Emiliano Zapata, who advocated for the right to cultivate one’s own land.

That Indigenous communities will be prioritized in the recreational market has been one of the issues that have reportedly held up Mexico’s two legislative houses’ ability to agree on regulations surrounding adult-use cannabis. The country’s Supreme Court declared cannabis prohibition unconstitutional in 2018, but legislators have yet to pass laws surrounding its use and production, leaving consumers and growers in the lurch.

Thursday’s permits were issued by the federal health agency, and were formally delivered to recipients in the state’s Congress building by the Indigenous Cannabis Producing Association of Oaxaca (Asociación Indígena Productora de Cannabis de Oaxaca). That non-profit was established in 2020, and looks to encourage the economic participation of the state’s Indigenous communities in the legal medicinal cannabis industry.

Among the communities receiving permits were Rancho San Felipe Oaxaca, from the municipality of San Pablo Güilá, and the municipalities of Yahe Ocotlán, Santa Cruz Papalutla, San Juan Chilateca, and San Pablo Huixtepec.

El Universal Oaxaca reports that a law has been proposed in Oaxaca that would expand permissions for Indigenous communities and open the possibility of producing cannabis for industrial purposes.

One day before the permits were presented, the state’s capital city of Oaxaca de Juárez issued a statement recognizing that there was no law against consuming cannabis in public, cautioning consumers to avoid lighting up around children. The declaration had been compelled by the activism of the national Plantón 420 movement, which had identified the legal loophole and brought attention to it with a series of peaceful protests in which activists were unfairly detained by the police.

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