The Mexican Chamber of Deputies on 10 March 2021 approved a bill to legalize marijuana nationwide, sending it back to the Senate with amendments.
The Senate approved an initial version of the cannabis legislation late last year, and the Chamber of Deputies was expected to take it up sooner—but that process was delayed, in part due to complications resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Now, two days after the Health and Justice committees amended and advanced the bill, lawmakers passed it on the floor in a 316-129 vote, with 23 abstentions.
Legalization will allow adults to buy and sell up to 28 gms at a time
While many legislators have personally advocated for the need for reform, it’s also the case that these actions come in response to a Supreme Court mandate. The court deemed the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of cannabis unconstitutional in a 2018 ruling and tasked lawmakers with enacting a policy change.
Dep. Arturo Hernandez Tapia said at the beginning of the debate that legalization represents a “historic opportunity to end decades of a hypocritical and moralistic attitudes that restricted the freedom of people,” whereas prohibition is an example of an “unjustified paternalism and state perfectionism.”
Under the proposal that’s since emerged, adults 18 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. But deputies have made revisions in committee to the Senate-approved version, including to the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies, among other components.
Surprisingly, no new oversight body
One of the most notable changes is that the revised bill would not establish a new independent regulatory body to oversee the licensing and implementation of the program as was approved by the Senate. Instead, it would give that authority to an existing agency, the National Commission Against Addictions.
The chamber also approved additional revisions on the floor, including ones to increase penalties for unauthorized possession of large amounts of cannabis, prevent forest land from being converted to marijuana growing areas and to require regulators to “coordinate campaigns against problematic cannabis use and…develop permanent actions to deter and prevent its use by minors and vulnerable groups.”
Another late change clarifies that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will maintain jurisdiction over hemp.
After adding the floor amendments, the body voted again, 250-163, with 14 abstentions, to formally send the bill back to the Senate.
Activists want less law more freedom
Advocates had hoped for more. Throughout this legislative process, they’ve called for changes to further promote social equity and eliminate strict penalties for violating the law. They were also frustrated to see a provision added in committee that requires people who want to grow their own cannabis at home to register with the government for approval.
“The current ruling criminalizes users, puts criminal and administrative sanctions on them and invades their privacy,” the advocacy group Mexico Unido said before the historic vote. “Thus, although the cannabis is regulated, the police may make arrests.”
Dep. Carmen Medel Palma emphasized on the floor that there is a “need to establish a new paradigm in drug policy” in Mexico.
“The damage caused by the prohibition and the war on drugs in Mexico has caused more harm than the health conditions attributed to drug consumption,” Dep. Rubén Cayetano García said. “Cannabis is not considered one of the serious public health problems in Mexico.”
The legislation also now includes a new licensing category for vertically integrated businesses that can control all aspects of cultivation, manufacturing and sales—though there is language meant to ensure that regulators would “prevent undue concentration that affects the market.”
While the bill would give priority for those licenses to marginalized communities, advocates are worried that there might not be strict and specific enough criteria to actually ensure that ends up being the case. They also pushed for an amendment to make it so a specific percentage of licenses would be set aside for those communities, but that did not happen.
When it comes to public consumption, marijuana would be treated the same as tobacco under the proposal, but it could not be sold online or through the mail.
Lawmakers now working against the clock to meet April deadline
With the chamber’s vote, the bill will head back to the Senate, which will review and potentially approve the changes. Sen. Ricardo Monreal of the MORENA party said ahead of the Chamber of Deputies vote that there “is no problem if they modify the cannabis law, we have no problem.”
“That is their job and their function. And on the return we will review whether or not they are appropriate,” he said, according to a translation. “The idea is to regulate the use of cannabis and not ignore a prohibitionist approach that generated a great social problem in the country.”
Lawmakers are working against the clock to comply with the Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April. That’s the latest in a series of deadlines they faced since 2018, with the court approving a series of requests to push it back because of factors like the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor “mistakes” in the proposal.
He said “there was no time to conduct a review” in the legislature before the prior December 15 Supreme Court deadline, but he noted that issues that need to be resolved are “matters of form” and “not of substance.”
The legalization bill cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote in that chamber last year, with some amendments being made after members informally considered and debated the proposal during a virtual hearing.
Members of the Senate’s Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies Committees had approved a prior version of legal cannabis legislation last year as well, but the pandemic delayed consideration of the issue. Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in April that legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the health crisis.
Gifting marijuana in parliament
As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there’s been a more light-hearted push to focus attention on the issue by certain members and activists. That push has mostly involved planting and gifting marijuana.
In September, a top administration official was gifted a cannabis plant by senator on the Senate floor, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.
A different lawmaker gave the same official, Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019.
Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature in August, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the MORENA party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.
Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.