Mexico’s lower house approves recreational cannabis bill

Proponents of bill argue it will take market out of hands of powerful drug cartels

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 11 March 2021 18:11
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A young man smokes a joint in front of the Mexican Senate in Mexico City, on 10 March, 2021
A young man smokes a joint in front of the Mexican Senate in Mexico City, on 10 March, 2021
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Mexico’s lower house has approved a bill that would legalise the recreational use of cannabis, putting the country on the path to becoming one of the world’s largest regulated markets for the drug.

Those in favour of the bill argue it will take the marijuana market out of the hands of Mexico’s powerful drug cartels and give it to the government.

Experts welcomed the news but stuck a cautionary note, saying the bill could primarily benefit transnational corporations rather than the farmers who grow the crop.

“Its very welcome to see another country moving away from the failures of prohibition and legally regulating cannabis,” Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at drugs reform charity Transform, told The Independent. “Unfortunately there are still problems with the newly revised bill that are less of a cause for celebration.”

The legislation, which now needs to return to the Senate, would allow the regulated use of the drug but establish a system of licenses required for each chain of production, distribution, transformation and sales.

Individuals would also need a permit to grow plants for permit use, with each person allowed to have six plants up to a maximum of eight per household.

It also stipulates that adults can use cannabis as long as it does not affect others or children, but those caught with more than 28 grams could be fined and those with more than 5.6 kilograms could face time in jail.

Mr Rolles said concerns remain about the drafting of the bill, and he warned the market could be dominated by large companies rather than benefit countries hit by the war on drugs.

“The drafting leaves open the risk that people who use cannabis will continue to be criminalised,” he said.

“We also have a strong sense that lessons have not been learnt from cannabis regulation in the US and Canada, which have shown that without positive action markets will be quickly swept up by larger corporates, when instead they should be regulated to benefit communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.

“The new draft of the Mexican Bill has scrapped some key social justice and equity measures, very much privileging big business, and making it much harder for smaller actors to benefit. “

“The Bill now has to return to the senate before it is passed so hopefully some of these problems can still be addressed.”

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the recreational use of marijuana in 2015, and, arguing that prohibiting its use was unconstitutional, in 2019 ordered the government to create legislation to legalise recreational use. It gave until 30 April to pass a law.

The country’s president, Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, has expressed his support for the bill and his party, Morena, has a majority in congress.

Opposition parties claim the legislation will lead to increased drugs use.

Meanwhile, critics fear some changes made by the lower chamber threatens the original intent of the legislation.

For example, the latest version removed a move to establish a new government agency specifically for the regulation of marijuana. Instead, managing the market will come under the umbrella of the existing National Commission Against Addictions, which experts say does not have the capacity to regulate such a complex market.

"They're going to make the law inoperable," Lisa Sanchez, director of Mexico United Against Crime, one of the nongovernmental organisations that has been pushing marijuana legalization for years, told Reuters news agency.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Mexico since 2017 and if the bill is passed, the country will join Canada and Uruguay in allowing its recreational use.

Mr Rolles said the news highlights how far behind the UK government is in its attitude towards the decriminalisation of cannabis.

He said: “Mexico's reforms mean that, with Canada having already legalised, if cannabis reforms currently before the US Senate pass, cannabis will soon be legal across the entire continent of North America — all before the UK Parliament has even debated decriminalisation of possession."

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