Once again, an historic bill to legalize cannabis in Mexico has been delayed.
The Mexican Supreme Court of Justice on Thursday granted the Chamber of Deputies an extension until April of 2021 to discuss and approve the cannabis legalization bill that was passed by the Senate last month.
The process has been closely watched around the world, as Mexico’s cannabis market would be the largest to-date, and the United States would be sandwiched between two countries that have ended prohibition, as Canada legalized in 2018.
The Supreme Court sent Chamber President Dulce Maria Sauri a letter confirming that the high court unanimously authorized the extension of the term that was supposed to expire on December 15.
“Taking into account the situation derived from the sanitary emergency caused by the serious risk that the coronavirus disease represents, as well as the need for the Chamber of Deputies to have the necessary time to exercise its powers, in a private session held today, by unanimity of eleven votes, the plenary of the Supreme Court approved the extension of the established term,” the letter reads.
It grants the lower house until the final day of the Congressional session, which will run from February 1 through April 30, 2021.
On Wednesday, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies requested an extension from the Supreme Court until February, asking for the vote to be delayed so they could have more time to review and make amendments to the bill passed in the Senate.
Sauri said this week that meeting the December 15 deadline would mean that lawmakers “will arrive with deficiencies in our work,” adding that the issue was more complex than they had anticipated.
Some lawmakers also highlighted the importance of including medical cannabis in the bill, which was excluded from the version approved by the Senate. Although the Supreme Court had ordered Mexico’s Ministry of Health to regulate medical cannabis by September 9, it did not meet the deadline, as Cannabis Wire reported. The new deadline is January 5, 2021.
The delay confused some advocates, who believed that the bill would pass this week, especially after two Chamber of Deputies committees, Human Rights and Budget and Public Account, gave favorable opinions on Wednesday.
“We are surprised that an extension has been requested again, when there had already been positive progress in two of the four commissions involved and there was consensus on minor changes. We understand the concern that legislators have in taking this step, but we know that Mexico is ready to move forward,” Erick Ponce, who created the Cannabis Industry Promotion Group, which represents more than twenty cannabis companies and associations, told Cannabis Wire
But Zara Snapp, a legalization advocate with the Instituto RIA, a research institute focused on drug policy, told Cannabis Wire that she saw the extension coming because “time was too tight.” Snapp added that she hopes that lawmakers will take advantage of the extension to improve the bill.
In 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban the use of cannabis in Mexico, and set an October 2019 deadline for lawmakers to pass a bill to legalize its use. The Court granted a six-month extension, until April 30, after the Senate failed to reach a consensus in October, but amid the coronavirus outbreak, the draft bill to legalize cannabis was stalled again, until mid-December.
The new deadline is the fourth the high court has given.
The bill, which was amended by the Senate prior to last month’s vote, will allow adults 18 and older to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of cannabis, and to cultivate up to six plants for personal use. It would also allow for regulated cannabis sales and expunge criminal records related to the possession of cannabis.
The bill still has to be signed by President Andres Manuel López Obrador before becoming a law.
After the Senate vote in November, López Obrador, who previously had been against legalizing the adult use of cannabis, said “people had to be trusted” with this decision.
“If you allow something, then act responsibly. And I think that’s going to happen with this new cannabis regulation,” he said.