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Mexican Committees Approve Revised Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Floor Vote Expected Wednesday

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Lawmakers in two key committees in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies amended and approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize marijuana nationally on Monday, setting the legislation up for floor action that is expected on Wednesday.

Members of the chamber’s Health and Justice committees approved the cannabis bill in a joint vote of 34-11, with 12 abstentions.

Lawmakers made several significant revisions from the version that passed the Senate in November.

Generally speaking, however, most of the main provisions of the legislation remain intact. Adults 18 and older would still be allowed to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use, for example. But lawmakers revised the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies, among other aspects.

Among the most significant amendments 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.

To the dismay of advocates, the bill was also changed to include a provision requiring that people who want to grow their own marijuana at home register with the government for approval to do so.

Another change would be the creation of a license category for vertically integrated marijuana businesses that could control all areas of production and sales. However, there is language included in the measure to “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 criteria to actually ensure that ends up being the case. They had wanted to specific percentage of licenses to be set aside for those communities, but that’s not in the new bill.

For the purposes of public consumption, cannabis would be treated the same as tobacco under the amended legislation, but it could not be sold online or through the mail.

The text of the revised measure also seeks to reframe the reform as being about protecting public health rather than economic growth.

鈥淕iven that the proposed legislation would open the legal market for cannabis, a substance considered to be a narcotic in the international treaties signed by our country, it is essential that the law issued for this purpose has a clear and defined public health approach,” it says. 鈥淔or this reason, it is essential to modify the approach that predominates in the bill, which considers the cultivation of cannabis as a means for economic growth and community development; which, if maintained like this, would encourage production and commercialism, neglecting public health, contrary to the guiding model that these committees intend to build.”

Additional changes are likely to be considered when the full Chamber of Deputies takes the bill up on the floor on Wednesday.

If deputies approve the legalization bill in amended form it will head back to the Senate, where lawmakers will consider the other chamber’s changes.

The draft of the revisions that the joint committees approved on Monday first circulated over the weekend.

While legalization advocates are happy to see the issue advancing, they do have problems with several provisions of the legislation.

Mexico Unido said that the revised proposal still “criminalizes users, puts criminal and administrative sanctions on them and invades their privacy.”

“The current ruling removed the locks on vertical market integration and the entry of the junk food and beverage industry,” it said. “And it did not eliminate excessive requirements such as seed control, traceability and testing, which exclude small participants.”

There would be six licensing categories under the proposal: production, distribution, sales, marketing and research鈥攊n addition to one that would provide for vertical integration.

Another change in the latest version concerns edibles, which would not be allowed to be marketed on a temporary basis until additional research is conducted into the products.

Following a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that deemed the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of marijuana unconstitutional, lawmakers have been tasked with ending criminalization鈥攂ut they鈥檝e repeatedly pushed back deadlines to enact the policy change.

Now the legislature聽has until the end of April to legalize cannabis nationwide, and it seems this week鈥檚 action will set the stage for Congress to make good on its obligation.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that an earlier anticipated vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor 鈥渕istakes鈥 in the proposal.

He said 鈥渢here was no time to conduct a review鈥 in the legislature before the prior December 15 Supreme Court deadline, but he noted that issues that need to be resolved are 鈥渕atters of form鈥 and 鈥渘ot of substance.鈥

The聽Senate passed the legalization bill in November聽and transmitted it to the Chamber of Deputies.聽Several committees took up the bill, with the Human Rights and Budget and Public Account Committees representing one panel that considered and advanced it just before the the court granted lawmakers鈥 latest deadline extension request.

While advocates are pushing for lawmakers to formally end prohibition, they hoped the delay would give them more time to try to convince the legislature to address their concerns about certain provisions of the current bill, namely the limited nature of its social equity components and strict penalties for violating rules.

The legalization bill聽cleared a joint group of Senate committees聽prior to the full floor vote in that chamber, with some amendments being made after members informally聽considered and debated the proposal聽during a virtual hearing.

Members of the Senate鈥檚 Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies Committees had聽approved a prior version of legal cannabis legislation聽last March, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed consideration of the issue.

The legislation as ultimately approved by the Senate made some attempts to mitigate the influence of large marijuana corporations. For example, it stated that for the first five years after implementation, at least 40 percent of cannabis business licenses must be granted to those from indigenous, low-income or historically marginalized communities.

Households where more than one adult lives would be limited to cultivating a maximum of eight plants. The legislation also says people 鈥渟hould not鈥 consume cannabis in homes where there are underaged individuals. Possession of more than 28 grams but fewer than 200 grams would be considered an infraction punishable by a fine but no jail time.

Sen. Julio Ram贸n Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in April that legalizing cannabis could聽fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there鈥檚 been a more lighthearted 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聽gifted a cannabis plant by senator聽on the Senate floor, and she said she鈥檇 be making it a part of her personal garden.

A different lawmaker聽gave the same official, Interior Ministry Secretary Olga S谩nchez Cordero, a marijuana joint聽on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature in August, when Sen. Jesusa Rodr铆guez of the MORENA party聽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.

Read the text of the revised Mexico legalization bill below:聽

Mexico Chamber of Deputies … by Marijuana Moment

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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