Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill on Wednesday that would legalize cannabis for adult use, and, if signed into law, would establish the world’s largest legal cannabis market.
After the 319-129 vote, lawmakers debated more than 200 amendments to the bill, including raising the legal age of cannabis use from 18 to 21 and allowing the cultivation of 10 plants instead of eight. Most of them were rejected, though they did approve one, for example, that would amend the language around problematic use.
The draft bill now heads back to the Senate, where the Chamber’s changes will be considered. Lawmakers have until April 30, which is the end of the Congressional session, to send the bill to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for his signature.
In a 2018 ruling, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to prohibit the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis, and it set an October 2019 deadline for lawmakers to pass a legalization bill. After delays and extensions, the Senate passed a bill in November 2020, but the Chamber of Deputies requested an additional extension to review it and make amendments. The Court granted lawmakers until April 30 to discuss and finally approve the bill.
During discussion of the historic reform effort, lawmakers have often returned to the lives lost due to decades of drug war-related violence.
“It is a very important step towards the pacification of this country,” Deputy Maria de los Ángeles Huerta del Río, of the government’s ruling Morena party, said on Wednesday. “With this law, we are confronting and addressing the root causes of violence and insecurity.”
The proposal states that people 18 years and older may cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use (up to 8 plants per residence), and they may purchase cannabis from approved sellers. The draft bill also caps personal possession at 28 grams, but possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized.
However, some advocates and lawmakers have warned that the draft bill continues to criminalize cannabis consumers by maintaining harsh penalties for people found possessing above the legal limit and requiring registration for the right to home grow.
“We cannot continue leaving the prosecution of consumers in the hands of the police. [Police have] to target those who are involved in drug trafficking, not the consumers,” said Martha Tagle Martínez, a deputy with the Citizens Movement party and a longtime supporter of legalization. “We cannot allow the state to enter our homes to control whether or not we comply with the law,” she added while members of her party stood behind her and held banners in support of legalization.
The bill would not create a new regulatory body to oversee the implementation of the cannabis program, as approved in the version that came out of the Senate. The Chamber’s legislation would give that authority to an existing agency, the National Commission Against Addictions, which also raised concerns among some lawmakers.
“It is stigmatizing and discriminatory for consumers who are being attributed an addiction, because not all consumption is necessarily problematic,” Deputy Frida Esparza Márquez said. “This organization has never issued a license, it does not have the operational, administrative, human, and budgetary structure necessary for what it is being authorized to do.”
Meanwhile, opponents of the bill have said that now is not the right time to be discussing legalization.
“It is inconceivable that in the midst of this tough battle we are waging against COVID-19, Morena gives preference to legalizing marijuana and not to reinforcing the fight against the pandemic,” said Frinné Arzuara Yarzábal, from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
The bill initially covered medical use, adult use, and hemp, but it no longer includes medical cannabis. In January, as Cannabis Wire reported, the government issued regulations for the medical cannabis program.
Although President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party has backed the bill, he has maintained a somewhat vague position towards the legalization push.