The president of Mexico called the ongoing prohibition of drugs “unsustainable” and proposed a broad decriminalization policy as part of his administration’s “National Development Plan” that was released last week.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and members of his administration have often talked about removing criminal penalties for certain drug offenses and diverting people suffering from addiction into treatment programs. And that’s exactly what he proposed in the new plan, which was submitted to the nation’s Congress and is expected to inform future legislation.
Presentamos el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2019-2024 que surge de nuestra realidad; pone por delante el bienestar del pueblo y no el lucro: https://t.co/HYYKQLtvZm
Acaba el periodo de la política neoliberal con sus recetas impuestas y sus mal llamadas reformas estructurales. pic.twitter.com/9pHPOBIgDj
— Andrés Manuel (@lopezobrador_) May 1, 2019
“In the matter of narcotic drugs, the prohibitionist strategy is already unsustainable, not only because of the violence generated by its poor results in terms of public health,” the administration said, according to a translated version. “In most of the countries in which it has been applied, that strategy has not been translated into a reduction of consumption.”
“Worse still, the prohibitionist model inevitably criminalizes consumers and reduces their odds of social reintegration and rehabilitation,” the proposal states. “The ‘war against drugs’ has escalated the public health problem represented by substances currently banned until it becomes a crisis of public security.”
The document says it is time to “renounce the claim” that addiction can be combated through prohibition and to instead “offer detoxification treatments” to people with addiction “under medical supervision,” and calls for money that’s currently used to enforce anti-drug laws to be used instead to fund treatment programs.
“The only real possibility of reducing the levels of drug consumption resides in lifting the prohibition of [those] that are currently illegal,” the document states.
It also suggests providing consumers with a “supply of doses with prescription,” indicating some form of legal distribution of currently prohibited drugs.
The unambiguous endorsement of a harm reduction approach approach to drug policy is significant, and if translated into legislation, would set Mexico far apart from its U.S. neighbor, which continues to lock up large numbers of people for nonviolent drug offenses and has resisted programs like safe consumption sites.
However, the administration noted that it would discuss the plans in a “negotiated manner” with the U.S. government and the United Nations, which maintains treaties prohibiting member states from implementing certain drug reform policies.
In the interest of public safety, Mexico must “end the war against drugs” and adopt a “prevention and treatment strategy” in dealing with drug addiction, the government said.
The development plan also argues that it is important to create “sustainable economic alternatives” for people whose livelihoods are based on the currently illegal drug market.
As El Heraldo de Mexico noted, López Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement controls both of the legislature’s chambers, and so it’s conceivable that lawmakers could follow up with bills to make the president’s proposals a reality in the coming year.
Zara Snapp, with the Instituto RIA and the coalition #RegulacionPorLaPaz, told Marijuana Moment that the president’s proposal is “generally positive” but that advocates have some concerns about language that seems to pathologize people who use drugs as necessarily requiring treatment, which is not the case for most consumers.
Meanwhile, though marijuana would in all likelihood be included in López Obrador’s expansive decriminalization proposal, the administration has also separately advocated for the legalization and regulation of cannabis. Prior to becoming the country’s interior minister, Olga Sanchez Cordero introduced legalization legislation as a senator, and her bill remains under consideration in the Congress.
Following a Mexican Supreme Court ruling that deemed the prohibition of marijuana possession and consumption for personal use unconstitutional, the government was given an October deadline to amend federal laws accordingly.
Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar, head of the Senate Justice Committee, said that the chamber would “take advantage” of the summer recess session to get a final legalization bill together.
Snapp said that the issue of regulating poppy, from which heroin and other opiates are derived, is also increasingly “on the radar of folks in government.”
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.
In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.
While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”
That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”
Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.
It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.
My Op Ed in today’s @WSJopinion – The tragic vape injuries involving THC demand that we consider a federal reckoning when it comes to the dangerous conflict between state and federal pot laws that leave federal regulators on sidelines https://t.co/HGptTfx8Db
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 11, 2019
“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”
One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.
My Op Ed in @WSJopinion – The conflict between federal and state law when it comes to marijuana has created a dangerous gap in oversight. It's about time we consider a new federal paradigm when it comes to regulation of cannabis and its active ingredients https://t.co/QifVa5Dbfq
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 13, 2019
“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”
Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”
That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.
“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”
Mexican Senate Committees Will Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week
Mexican Senate committees will introduce an updated proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use within days.
During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced that they would remain in permanent session as they go through various legalization bills that lawmakers have already filed and present a comprehensive new piece of legislation on Thursday.
Sen. Miguel Ángel Navarro Quintero of the ruling MORENA party, who is a cosponsor of one existing reform bill, said the development “is a positive step to regulate—it is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.
The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero last year, senators said. However, there are about a dozen other legalization bills on the table, including one to have the federal government control the marijuana market, and they said provisions of each proposal would be taken into consideration.
The panels will also look at public input and expert testimony—including a panel led by a former White House drug czar—that were gathered as part of a weeks-long series of cannabis events that the Senate organized.
“It is a backbone that we are taking into account,” Sen. Julio Menchaca of the MORENA party said of Sánchez Cordero’s bill, which the cabinet member filed while previously serving as a senator, adding that “each of the initiatives that different senators have presented are also very important.”
Quintero said “if we are committing an open parliament, all opinions must be taken into account, because if not, we would be simulating a process.”
If the committees are successful in advancing the legislation, that would put the chamber one key step closer to meeting a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court last year. After ruling that the country’s ban on possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults is unconstitutional, it gave lawmakers until the end of October to change federal drug policy.
The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was on track to vote on a legalization bill ahead of that deadline.
Separately, the chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Sen. José Narro Céspedes, said on Thursday that legalization will be an economic boon for farmers and must be implemented in a way that disrupts the illicit market.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.