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Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Push Back Against Alleged Corporate Effort To Restrict Home Cultivation

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Caregivers say the lobbying efforts come down to a lack of understanding and greed.

By Marla R. Miller, Michigan Advance

Medical marijuana caregiver Ryan Bringold has been involved in Michigan’s grassroots efforts to legalize cannabis for years.

But as larger licensed recreational and medical cannabis grow facilities and provisioning centers crop up across Michigan, caregivers like Bringold who helped legalize marijuana feel they are being pushed out. A small group of corporate activists want to tighten state restrictions for medical caregivers and patients. The goal: Cut plant counts, require product testing and reduce homegrown cultivation.

Bringold, 49, who lives in Waterford, is organizing the Caregivers Rights Rally Wednesday at the state Capitol in Lansing, as the legislature is back in session.

The goal of the rally is to unite caregivers and speak out against proposals to change the state’s 2008 Medical Marihuana Act provisions. He also helped coordinate a Michigan NORML presence at the 2019 Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk, and this year the group walked to raise awareness for caregivers’ rights.

“We didn’t pay attention,” Bringold said. “We watched our ability to be in the retail market fade away. We watched other restrictions, but no one was doing anything. We need to come together and protect what the Michigan voters voted for or the retail market is going to dictate the cannabis supply.”

As of September 1, there were 249,870 active patients (292 are minors) and 30,227 active caregivers, according to the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA). The MRA is not pushing for any changes to the current caregiver program and spokesperson David Harns declined further comment.

The Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA), a trade group that represents some of the largest cannabis companies in Michigan, is reportedly behind the effort to tighten regulations for medical marijuana caregivers, patients and residents who grow their own cannabis.


According to Bringold and other cannabis activists, some legislative proposals being discussed include:

  • Reduce caregiver plant allowances from 60 to 10 and a 75 percent reduction in patient plant allowances (from 12 to three).
  • Require caregivers to test all cannabis prior to distribution and that all 30,000 caregiver gardens be tracked by the state’s METRC computer database.
  • Restrict outdoor grow facilities and homegrown cannabis.
  • Prohibit caregiver member markets where caregivers can sell surplus product to fellow caregivers and patients.

The MCMA formed in 2019 and has since removed member companies from its website. The website states the association represents “nearly half of all multiple Class C cannabis licenses in Michigan.” Steve Linder, who leads the organization, is a longtime Lansing-based Republican consultant and lobbyist who has targeted the unregulated supply and wants tighter industry regulations for medical caregivers.

Linder declined comment for this story. But in May, he told Grown In, a cannabis industry newsletter, “The first law I would want to pass is a law that would start to get at the non-licensed supply out in the marketplace. It’s not tested. We don’t know where it’s grown. We don’t know who’s growing it. People are not employing, they’re not investing in infrastructure, they’re not paying taxes. So we have to get at the unregulated supply and that law needs to be passed. And we’re going to lead the charge.”

The MCMA website also explains the organization wants to rein in Michigan’s illicit cannabis market with the goal of promoting safety, transparency and accountability.

“MCMA supports working together to end the avalanche of untested and potentially unsafe cannabis flooding the Michigan market,” the website states. “However, large quantities of untested, illicit cannabis continue to flood the market, posing a significant threat to patient and consumer safety and circumventing rules and taxes.”

Linder’s reported attempts to shop bills among lawmakers have created a buzz in Lansing and spread across the state’s cannabis industry. Early this summer, activists launched an online boycott to support #NOCHANGES to Michigan’s caregiver laws. Hundreds of cannabis companies responded, including several businesses in greater Lansing, by pledging support for caregivers.

Cannabis retailers and consumers have boycotted MCMA members, including Skymint, LivWell, Common Citizen and High Life Farms in Lansing, and brands affiliated with the group’s members. Calls and emails to the MCMA and several corporate cannabis companies, including High Life Farms, Skymint Brands and LivWell, were not returned for this story.

The controversy also prompted Pleasantrees CEO and founder Randy Buchman to resign as MCMA’s president. LivWell executive Shelly Edgerton, the former state licensing and regulatory affairs director who helped create the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency, stepped in to replace him.

The public backlash prompted MCMA to remove contact information and individual members from the website and elect a new board chair to help with public relations, said Rick Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML.

Thompson has promoted the recent boycott online and believes Linder and MCMA are coming after caregivers’ and residents’ cultivation rights.

“He’s been a problem for the cannabis industry for a while,” Thompson said. “They’ve talked about slimming the market for quite some time, meaning less competition to their businesses and fewer licenses issued, but it also means attacking the unregulated market and home cultivation by patients, caregivers and by every adult in Michigan over the age of 21.”

Caregivers early advocates, helped drive cannabis legalization

Medical marijuana caregivers are among the early activists who spearheaded the grassroots efforts behind Michigan’s voter-approved Proposal 1 of 2008 and Proposal 1 of 2018 ballot initiatives, Bringold notes. The former legalized medical use of marijuana and, a decade later, the latter made it legal for adults over age 21 to grow, possess and use cannabis for recreational purposes.

“Some of these multiple location retailers, they know exactly what they are doing,” Bringold said. “They want all the money. We’ve seen it in the coke industry, the potato chip industry, the car industry… What they are doing is shutting us down. We created the industry. None of these people were knocking on doors doing the legwork, where were those guys then. None of them did any of it, and yet now they are in the power position to eliminate me. This is our chance to keep something of what we helped to create.”

Caregivers say the lobbying efforts come down to a lack of understanding and greed. Corporate cannabis companies want to push the little guy out, using straw man arguments around safety and surplus product that fuels a black market, Bringold said.

“For the licensing process to become a retail medical marijuana facility, you had to show $1 million of assets, obtained legally over time; that right there put most of the caregivers in the state of Michigan out of that loop,” Bringold said. “We’re just regular folks with 9-to-5 jobs, who happen to enjoy cannabis, and we’re patients and caregivers. We were pushed right out of that system. We never had the opportunity to get in. There are a few who got in who are good people.”

Bringold has watched the law’s language change as larger grow facilities, dispensaries and medical marijuana provisioning centers opened shop. Initially, caregivers were allowed to supply dispensaries as they got up and running, but now they are excluded from the retail marketplace.

In addition, the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act required grower and processor facility licensees to have at least two years’ experience as a caregiver, or employ someone with caregiving experience. That rule ends on December 31.

“It just seems like we were pushed aside and found to be useless,” Bringold said. “We are a very close-knit community in the cannabis community… Everybody was flying a victory flag and forgot there was a whole group who never liked cannabis, never cared about cannabis. Some ran for city and township boards and ran for state positions.”

Now, caregiver marketplaces are in jeopardy, places like Vehicle City Social and Genesee County Compassion Club in Flint. These are member organizations where caregivers can sell surplus products to other caregivers and patients.

“You pay a membership fee and become a member, and as a caregiver-grower, you can set up a table and other caregivers can come in and buy your product to supply medicine to patients in between grows,” Bringold said. “It’s like any other crop. Crops do fail… Not every time is a success. Those places still allow people to get medicine for a reasonable cost.”

Caregivers say they’re ‘in it to help people’

Cliff and Bonnie Demos, caregivers in northern Michigan’s Lake County, moved to Michigan from Wisconsin to treat Bonnie’s health conditions after medical marijuana became legal. They grow outdoors—the way nature intended—and Cliff Demos argues homegrown marijuana is safer than cannabis cultivated in a large indoor grow facility.

Cliff Demos, 75, said the corporate grows are “in this for the money—they’re not in it to see people get healed or to see people be relieved from pain.” They’re not mindful of Michigan’s climate or growing season, but rather they are trying to fast-grow plants for money, he said.

Demos plans to attend the rally and said the caregiver model works. Many caregivers and patients have established relationships over the last decade, and the Demoses work with patients to improve their health. They’ve developed different delivery methods, including balms, oils and cannabis-infused food.

“When we get patients, they are usually sick, and it’s up to us to help them any way we can,” Demos said. “We are able to help them and make things better for them. It just plain flat-out works. All I know is what we do and that’s take care of people, treat them with respect and give them what will help them.”

Tighter regulations could jeopardize patient-caregiver relationships statewide, even threatening the entire program, Bringold said. Cutting the number of patient and plant allowances for caregivers will drive more patients to licensed dispensaries, where patients aren’t allowed to touch, smell, or sample their medicine.

Having a medical marijuana card keeps the program strong and offers other benefits for patients, like reduced taxes at provisioning centers and more protections while driving with cannabis in the car, Bringold said.

“They don’t feel that citizens should be growing,” Bringold said of those targeting caregivers. “There is a place now to buy it. People who think like that don’t know anything about cannabis. They don’t understand the patient-caregiver relationship. Cannabis is a unique plant in that every plant strain can affect you differently.”

MCMA wants testing, crackdown on illicit supply

Under current law, licensed caregivers can grow up to 12 marijuana plants per patient for up to five different patients. Each caregiver can have a maximum 72 plants if the caregiver is also a registered medical marijuana patient.

Unlike licensed retailers, caregivers don’t have to submit a formal business plan to state officials. They have reduced licensing fees, and their harvested plants and products don’t have to be tested at a safety compliance laboratory.

Linder and others want caregiver products to be tested for pesticides, heavy metals and other potentially harmful additives like cannabis sold at dispensaries and provisioning centers. But advocates argue that people never hear media reports of anyone dying or getting sick or injured from caregiver-grown medical marijuana.

“If you don’t hear of people getting sick from caregiver cannabis, kids going to the hospital, then it’s not happening,” Thompson said. “We’ve had 12 years of caregiver cannabis; there is no danger or health hazard coming from caregiver cannabis.”

Bringold said the caregiver community is tight-knit and word gets around about unethical practices. The caregivers who weren’t successful are long gone. He’s a 100 percent organic grower who doesn’t use chemicals to control bugs.

“There is no real danger from cannabis even if it’s shitty cannabis,” Bringold said. “If you are doing something that might be unethical, if you used too much fertilizer, if it’s got spider mites in it, that gets around pretty quickly. We’re self-regulating and we’ve been self-regulating for 10 years.”

Thompson said state marijuana regulators haven’t expressed interest in changing the caregiver program. In an interview with Four20 Post, MRA Director Andrew Brisbo said the state doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to require mandatory product testing for 30,000 caregivers.

The state would have to expand capacity at its safety compliance laboratories or open more. There have been 17 marijuana regulatory licenses issued, but there are currently 13 testing facilities in the state that are open and serving the public, Thompson said.

Caregivers, corporate grows can coexist

In July, Michigan’s cannabis market increased 56 percent from a year ago, boasting a record $171.1 million in revenue.

“There is plenty of growth in the market,” Thompson said. “We don’t need to start making changes to some of the voter-directed initiatives we passed in Michigan.”

As for eliminating the “gray” or black market, activists and caregivers say that will never go away. Thompson said that anyone operating in the cannabis space is breaking federal law. He also noted that other states with caregiver programs have retracted the freedoms given to caregivers over time.

“When you create laws that are unworkable, you create criminality, and that’s why we need to have more input into the ways laws are crafted,” Thompson said. “They’re crafting laws that disadvantage people and that’s avoidable.”

In addition, activists are willing to address concerns that some people are taking advantage of an unregulated supply.

“If you get rid of the caregiver system, you make it a black market,” Bringold said. “We’ve all heard about the warehouse caregiver growing over 72 plants, that guy should be in trouble… We expect caregivers to follow the law that was voted on.”

Several grow facilities and provisioning centers have opened in rural areas like Lake, Mecosta and Osceola counties. Lake County has one of the highest poverty rates in the state, and many medical marijuana patients can’t afford the higher prices at provisioning centers, Demos said.

“These big corporations just gotta keep taking from the small guy,” Demos said. “You see that with anything that becomes new. Big corporations jump on it.”

The Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, a Lansing-based member organization serving over 300 cannabis businesses, doesn’t support efforts to change the current caregiver-patient model.

“Our members, many of them used to be caregivers and have come from the caregiver program into the retail market,” said Executive Director Robin Schneider. “The agreement was never that we were going to take any rights away from the patients or caregivers.”

Schneider doesn’t foresee the lobbying efforts gaining momentum. The caregiver law would require a 3/4 majority vote to change since it was part of a voter-initiated ballot proposal. She also noted that patients and caregivers are able to test cannabis on their own at the state’s safety compliance facilities.

“We do understand why the caregivers are having the rally at the Capitol and encourage them to stay engaged in the political process moving forward,” Schneider said. “It would take a supermajority [of lawmakers] to pass, and members of both parties have expressed this is not a fight they are interested in taking up.”

Thompson disagrees and believes the fight to roll back rights for caregivers and home growers isn’t going to fizzle out.

“If I didn’t think it was a threat,” he said, “I wouldn’t be making such a big deal about it.”

This story was first published by Michigan Advance.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Politics

Maryland Lawmakers Must Override Governor’s Drug Paraphernalia Decriminalization Veto (Op-Ed)

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“Criminalization, marginalization, isolation, injury and death are all part of a largely preventable cycle of harm.”

By Scott Cecil, Maryland Matters

The writer is a regional ambassador of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition.

At the urging of public health professionals and harm reduction advocates during the 2021 session, the Maryland legislature approved Senate Bill 420 decriminalizing the possession of drug paraphernalia. Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) decision to veto that bill flies in the face of the expertise of those same public health professionals and harm reduction advocates.

His action constitutes a failure to meaningfully respond to the calls to abolish hyper-criminalization in policing, reimagine public safety in our society and address the crisis of accidental fatal drug overdoses in Maryland.

Because of the veto, in Maryland, the tools which may be used to consume drugs will continue to be illegal to possess and use. This makes them scarcer and encourages people to share them with others, putting them at an elevated risk of contracting bloodborne illnesses and disease such as hepatitis and HIV.

Criminalization of paraphernalia is dangerous for all Marylanders, including those who do not use illicit substances, because it increases the likelihood that the public at large and law enforcement personnel can be directly harmed. Under continued paraphernalia criminalization, people who use drugs will continue to be reluctant to hold onto their supplies due to the fear that the police will use possession of these items as a means to search and arrest them.

With the threat of having to interact with law enforcement personnel, drug users are more likely to dispose of paraphernalia in public spaces. Paraphernalia criminalization laws also put law enforcement personnel at greater risk because they are more likely to be endangered by hidden supplies when interacting with or conducting a search of someone’s body or belongings.

Prohibitive drug paraphernalia laws are ostensibly intended to discourage both drug use and the availability of paraphernalia. Decades of the so-called War on Drugs has shown us that aggressive enforcement and criminalization of drug use have not reduced the rate of drug use in our society nor the availability of drug paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, the rates of infectious diseases and accidental fatal overdose deaths among drug users have surged. Last year, more than 93,000 Americans (including approximately 2,800 people in Maryland) died of accidental fatal drug overdoses.

Decriminalization or paraphernalia is rooted in the harm reduction principle of equipping people to use drugs more safely.

This is positive for everyone in the community—including law enforcement agents, by stemming the spread of infectious disease and lifting the stigma which so dangerously isolates people who use drugs.

By contrast, criminalization, and perceived suspicion of criminal activity—like illicit drug use—is far too often used as a means for law enforcement personnel to target historically marginalized groups, such as people living with mental illnesses and people who are surviving without access to housing. These folks are more likely to be suffering from substance use disorders, thereby placing them at extremely elevated risk of injury or death from drug use.

Criminalization, marginalization, isolation, injury and death are all part of a largely preventable cycle of harm. And criminalization is perhaps the only part of that cycle which can be meaningfully and quickly addressed by public policy and law.

The Maryland legislature understood this when they passed SB420 into law earlier this year. It is unfortunate that Gov. Hogan has failed to acknowledge this reality.

His statement on the veto demonstrates that he either lacks a sufficient understanding of the expertise of public health professionals and harm reduction advocates, or that his decision making on this issue has been clouded by outdated, misleading or simply false drug-warrior misinformation.

It is now up to the Maryland legislature to override his veto.

Maryland must be led down a path which has the greatest chances of success for reducing the risks associated with drug use for all Marylanders (including those who do not use illicit drugs) and stemming the tide of accidental fatal overdoses in Maryland which have reached catastrophic proportions.

This content was republished with permission from Maryland Matters.

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Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Wants To Process As Many Marijuana Pardons As Possible Before Leaving Office

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Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Wants To Process As Many Marijuana Pardons As Possible Before Leaving Office

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The lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania is stepping up his push to get marijuana records cleared, promoting an expedited petition program that he hopes will provide relief to thousands of people negatively impacted by prohibition.

In an interview with KDKA that aired last week, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment.

“I’m a fervent believer in second chances. And one of the things I quickly discovered was that people’s lives were just being ruined by these silly charges, and you have all this unnecessary review [to seal records],” Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons, said.

“This is a plant that’s legal in many jurisdictions across America, and it’s not a big deal, but you go through your life in many cases a convicted felon, and that excludes you from a lot of opportunities,” he said. “So I developed an expedited review process that I encourage everybody to partake in.”

There are about 20,000 marijuana-related cases in Pennsylvania each year, he said. And some eligible cases go back decades, including one case that recently went through the petition process where a man had a felony conviction on his record for possession of eight ounces of cannabis that dates back to 1975.

“If you’ve got some stupid charge like that on your record, it doesn’t cost anything to apply, and we can get that off your your permanent record,” the lieutenant governor said. “I don’t care how conservative or how liberal you are politically. I don’t think we as a society should be really damaging people’s future for consuming a plant that is now legal in many jurisdictions—and soon will be in Pennsylvania.”

While both Fetterman and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) support mass expungements of cannabis convictions, he said that, right now, this is “the only way to free records.”

But the official is optimistic about the prospect of future reform to both legalize marijuana in the state and provide an even more effective process to get past convictions sealed. He pointed to a legalization bill that was recently filed by a Republican lawmaker as an example of the “evolution towards this” and described the legislation’s introduction as “a quantum leap in acknowledging it.”

For now, however, he’s doing what he can to raise awareness about the expedited petition program under the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. People with non-violent marijuana convictions can apply for free on the board’s website.

“I’m lieutenant governor for a little over a year, and we want to get as many people free of these silly convictions and charges that are holding the record back,” Fetterman said. “The application doesn’t cost anything. You don’t need an attorney. And our turnaround time is, right now, down to three to four months.”

In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marked his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, a lawmaker introduced a bill last month to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.

Separately, bipartisan Pennsylvania senators said this month that they are introducing a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

A much-anticipated bipartisan Senate bill to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania that has been months in the making was formally introduced last month.

Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) unveiled the nearly 240-page legislation months after first outlining some key details back in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, five grams of marijuana concentrate products and 500 milligrams of THC contained in cannabis-infused products.

Meanwhile, Rep. Amen Brown (D) recently announced his intent to file a reform bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.

Additionally, a separate pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing.

While each measure generally seeks and end to marijuana criminalization by creating a regulated, commercial model for cannabis, there are some provisions that make each piece of legislation unique. For example, the proposals vary in how they would approach taxes, revenue and social equity.

While these recent moves to enact reform in the GOP-controlled legislature are encouraging to advocates, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R) recently tempered expectations, saying that there’s “no significant support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the House Republican caucus.”

Fetterman, who is running for U.S. Senate, told Marijuana Moment in a recent phone interview that he’s optimistic about the prospects of reform with these latest proposals, though he acknowledged that there may be disputes between legislators over how tax revenue should be distributed.

Wolf, for his part, has said that a bipartisan approach to legalization “would be a great thing. I think the time is right.”

Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization this month that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Wolf said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released this month found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.

An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last week, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Mexican Senators Circulate Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Vote Expected Within Weeks

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Mexican Senators Circulate Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Vote Expected Within Weeks

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A draft bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among senators, and a top lawmaker says the plan is to vote on the proposal before December 15.

While the legislation hasn’t been formally introduced yet, the draft measure largely reflects an earlier version the Senate passed late last year, with some revisions.

Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal Avila of the ruling MORENA party has been pushing for the reform and recently said that there’s agreement among leading lawmakers to prioritize legislation to regulate cannabis.

The Mexican Supreme Court declared nearly three years ago that the country’s prohibition on the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis was unconstitutional. Lawmakers were then obligated to enact the policy change but have since been unable to reach a consensus on legislation to put in place regulations for a marijuana program.

At the request of legislators, the court agreed to extend its deadline for Congress to formally end prohibition on multiple occasions. But because of the repeated failed attempts to meet those deadlines, justices ultimately voted to end criminalization on their own in June.

Monreal previously said that the stage is set for lawmakers to actually pass a marijuana legalization bill during the new session after multiple attempts in recent years fell short of getting over the finish line.

Under the draft bill that’s currently being circulated, 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.

Members of the Senate Health and Justice Committees were tapped to formulate the draft of a cannabis bill.

The text of the measure states that the purpose of the reform is to promote “public health, human rights and sustainable development” and to “improve the living conditions of the people who live in the United Mexican States.”

It would further “prevent and combat the consequences of problematic consumption of psychoactive cannabis and contribute to the reduction of the crime incidence linked to drug trafficking, promoting peace, security and individual and community well-being.”

Regulators would be tasked with developing separate rules to regulate cannabis for adult-use, research and industrial production.

The bill would establish a Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, which would be a decentralized body under the Ministry of Health. It would also be responsible for issuing licenses, overseeing the program and promoting public education campaigns around marijuana.

Retail licenses would need to be issued within 18 months of the enactment of the law.

In order to “compensate the damages generated by the prohibition,” the bill states that at least 40 percent of marijuana cultivation licenses would need to go to communities most impacted by cannabis criminalization for at least the first five years of implementation. After that point, at least 20 percent of licenses would need to be reserved for equity applicants.

After the Supreme Court independently invalidated prohibition earlier this year, advocates stressed that the decision underscores the need for legislators to expeditiously pass a measure to implement a comprehensive system of legal and regulated sales. They want to ensure that a market is established that’s equitable, addresses the harms of criminalization on certain communities and promotes personal freedom.

Advocates are pleased to see Senate leadership take seriously the need to establish regulations and provide access to cannabis for adults, but they have identified some provisions as problematic.

For example, possessing more than 200 grams of marijuana could still result in prison time.

Senate President Olga Sánchez Cordero, who previously served at a cabinet-level position in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, recently said that “there is no longer room for the prohibitionist policy.” And she also says the influence of the U.S. is to blame for failed marijuana criminalization laws in her country.

The Senate approved a legalization bill late last year, and then the Chamber of Deputies made revisions and passed it in March, sending it back to the originating chamber. A couple of Senate committees then took up and cleared the amended measure, but leaders quickly started signaling that certain revisions made the proposal unworkable.

After the Chamber of Deputies previously approved the Senate-passed legalization bill, senators said that the revised proposal was critically internally conflicted—on provisions concerning legal possession limits, the definition of hemp and other issues—and lawmakers themselves could be subject to criminal liability if it went into effect as drafted.

But Monreal said in April that if the court were to make a declaration of unconstitutionality before a measure to regulate cannabis was approved, it would result in “chaos.”

The top senator also talked about the importance of lawmakers taking their time to craft good policy and not rush amidst lobbying from tobacco and pharmaceutical industry interests.

“We must not allow ourselves to be pressured by interests,” he said at the time. “The Senate must act with great prudence in this matter.”

Sen. Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar of the MORENA party said in April that “at this time, it is important to legislate in the terms that are presented to us” and then consider additional revisions to cannabis laws through subsequent bills.

That’s the position many legalization advocates took as well, urging lawmakers to pass an imperfect bill immediately and then work on fixing it later.

Mexico’s president 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.

Late last year, Sánchez Cordero, then 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 Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019. That joint is now framed and hangs in her office.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last year, 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.

Read the draft marijuana legalization bill that’s being circulated in Mexico’s Senate below: 

Click to access texto-normativo-para-nueva-iniciativa-1.pdf

Taliban Announces Deal To Grow Cannabis In Afghanistan Amid Questions Over Company’s Involvement

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