The Mexican Senate is prepared to approve a bill to legalize marijuana as amended by the Chamber of Deputies earlier this month, a key senator said this week.
Due to the urgency of meeting a Supreme Court deadline to enact the policy change by April 30, Sen. Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar of the ruling MORENA party said that “at this time, it is important to legislate in the terms that are presented to us.”
Lawmakers can consider further revisions to cannabis laws after the initial bill is enacted, he said.
“Our priority is that the legislation comes into force—and the only way to get it out is by accepting it,” Ramírez Aguilar, who serves as president of the Senate’s Board of Directors, said at a press conference.
The comments come about two weeks after the Chamber of Deputies passed a landmark legalization bill that had been revised since it was approved by the Senate late last year.
While many legislators have personally advocated for the need for reform, it’s also the case that these actions come in response to a Supreme Court mandate. The court deemed the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of cannabis unconstitutional in a 2018 ruling and tasked lawmakers with enacting a policy change.
El presidente de la Mesa Directiva, @ramirezlalo_, dio a conocer que en el @senadomexicano se construye un acuerdo entre los diferentes Grupos Parlamentarios para que, antes del 30 de abril, se apruebe la regulación del cannabis. https://t.co/x31ibztlOw
— Senadores Morena (@MorenaSenadores) March 25, 2021
Ramírez Aguilar said he is working to build an agreement between the body’s various political parties to get the reform done soon.
“I believe that, due to the urgent need for legislation and the income it represents for the Mexican State, at this time it is important to legislate in the terms that are presented to us,” he said.
Meanwhile, however, Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal Avila said there is a “thorough review” underway by committees in the body about “whether this law will contribute to a decrease in crime and a decrease in fatalities.”
— Senado de México (@senadomexicano) March 25, 2021
Under the proposal, adults 18 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. But deputies have made revisions to the initial Senate-approved version, including to the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies, among other components.
One of the most notable changes 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.
The chamber also approved additional revisions to increase penalties for unauthorized possession of large amounts of cannabis, prevent forest land from being converted to marijuana growing areas and to require regulators to “coordinate campaigns against problematic cannabis use and…develop permanent actions to deter and prevent its use by minors and vulnerable groups.”
Advocates had hoped for more. Throughout this legislative process, they’ve called for changes to further promote social equity and eliminate strict penalties for violating the law. They were also frustrated to see a provision added in committee that requires people who want to grow their own cannabis at home to register with the government for approval.
En especial, el dictamen criminaliza a las personas usuarias, les pone sanciones penales y administrativas e invade su privacidad. Así, aunque la #cannabis esté regulada, la policía 🚓 podrá realizar detenciones. pic.twitter.com/03BbXUSHn0
— México Unido (@MUCD) March 25, 2021
“In particular, the ruling criminalizes users, gives them criminal and administrative sanctions and invades their privacy,” the advocacy group Mexico Unido said. “Thus, although cannabis is regulated, the police may make arrests.”
While the bill would give priority for licenses to marginalized communities, advocates are worried that there might not be strict and specific enough criteria to actually ensure that ends up being the case. They also pushed for an amendment to make it so a specific percentage of licenses would be set aside for those communities, but that did not happen.
Monreal Avila, the Senate majority leader, said ahead of the Chamber of Deputies vote that there “is no problem if they modify the cannabis law, we have no problem.”
“That is their job and their function. And on the return we will review whether or not they are appropriate,” he said, according to a translation. “The idea is to regulate the use of cannabis and not ignore a prohibitionist approach that generated a great social problem in the country.”
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor “mistakes” in the proposal.
The legalization bill cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote in that chamber last year, 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 year as well, but the pandemic delayed consideration of the issue. 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 health crisis.
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.