Lawmakers in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies are finally set to take up a bill to legalize marijuana nationally in the coming days, but the proposal has recently been subject to several significant revisions since being approved by the Senate last year.
First, a joint hearing of the chamber’s Health and Justice committees will take place on Monday, and a vote in the full chamber is expected the following day or on Wednesday. Advocates have been eagerly awaiting the introduction of new language, hopeful that it would address certain concerns with the Senate proposal, and now they’re getting details about what is being changed by the joint panels.
Generally speaking, 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.
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.
According to Heraldo de Mexico, the amended legislation includes “substantive modifications” to 15 provisions, deletes seven components and adds five new ones.
The text of the revised measure also seeks to reframe the reform as being about protecting public health rather than economic growth.
“Given 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. “For 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.”
Already, there’s been criticism of the revised bill.
The advocacy group Mexico Unido said that the revised proposal still “criminalizes users, puts criminal and administrative sanctions on them and invades their privacy.”
El actual dictamen criminaliza a las personas usuarias, les pone sanciones penales y administrativas e invade su privacidad. Esto quiere decir que, aunque la #cannabis Aunque esté regulada, la policía podrá realizar detenciones a personas usuarias 👉🏽 https://t.co/BROQgkWd73
— México Unido (@MUCD) March 5, 2021
“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.”
El dictamen actual eliminó los candados a la integración vertical del mercado y la entrada de la industria de comida y bebidas chatarra. Y no eliminó requisitos excesivos como el control de las semillas, la trazabilidad y el testeo, que excluyen a los pequeños participantes. pic.twitter.com/Ert8f4XvSM
— México Unido (@MUCD) March 5, 2021
Activists are happy, however, that that proposed fines for possessing too much marijuana have been reduced.
“The Federal Law for the Regulation of Cannabis is intended, through a public health approach, to link the right to consume cannabis with the right to production for self-consumption, either personally in homes, or as participants in legally constituted civil associations,” the bill states. “Through the proposed system, the production of cannabis and its derivatives would be aimed at self-consumption, either at home or in cannabis associations.”
There would be six licensing categories under the proposal: production, distribution, sales, marketing and research—in 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, 24 Horas reported.
Martha Tagle Martínez, a member of the chamber’s Health Committee, said earlier this week that the original Senate reform legislation did not fulfill the requirements of the Supreme Court, which deemed the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of marijuana unconstitutional in a 2018 ruling. Lawmakers have since been tasked with ending criminalization, but they’ve repeatedly pushed back deadlines to enact the policy change.
Now the legislature has until the end of April to legalize cannabis nationwide, and it seems next week’s action will set the stage for Congress to make good on its obligation.
In the meantime, the Health Committee already held a preliminary discussion on the issue last month.
Members of the panel said they wanted to hold four sessions to debate the legislation, but its president, Carmen Medel Palma, has yet to convene them and wants to speed up the process, La Jornada reported.
The Justice Committee also met to discuss the matter on Sunday, according to the group Cáñamo México. The two panels were initially expected to send a revised legalization proposal to the floor last month, but that didn’t happen. However, they met jointly on Thursday to discuss the latest version in advance of the expected formal approval on Monday.
¡La regulación de la cannabis! 🪴
El día de hoy tuve video conferencia de comisiones unidas para su regulación.
Un enorme reto a nivel salud y justicia. pic.twitter.com/lBzd1CzGbl
— Ana Paty Peralta (@anapatyp) March 4, 2021
Martínez of the Health Committee has signaled that she doesn’t feel lawmakers have been provided sufficient time to analyze the revised bill ahead of the planned floor vote in the coming days.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that an earlier anticipated 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 Senate passed the legalization bill in November and transmitted it to the Chamber of Deputies. 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’ 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 cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote in that chamber, 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 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 “should not” 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 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 pandemic.
As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there’s 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 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.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the latest legislation removed a requirement for people who grow their own marijuana to register to do so, but that was based on an unofficial draft bill. That provision was included in the legislation as considered by the committees.