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Top Mexican Senator Says Lawmakers Will Again Take Up Marijuana Legalization In New Session



Mexican lawmakers will again take up the issue of establishing rules for a regulated marijuana market in the new legislative session that begins on Wednesday, a top senator says.

The country’s Supreme Court first deemed the prohibition on personal consumption and cultivation of cannabis for adults unconstitutional in 2018. Since then, there’s been an ongoing effort in the Congress to legislate on the issue鈥攂ut lawmakers have repeatedly failed to meet court deadlines to end marijuana criminalization.

The court took matters into its own hands in June and invalidated prohibition, without a regulatory scheme in place. Also that month, President Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador said his administration will respect the court’s decision, and he indicated that further reforms could potentially be placed before voters on the ballot.

But Sen. Julio Ram贸n Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in a new statement on Monday that cannabis legalization will ideally be taken up by the legislature in the forthcoming session after regular orders of business are addressed.

The senator noted the fact that both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies have passed legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis, but could not agree on the details before lawmakers adjourned for the last session.

鈥淭he ideal is to finish the legislative process鈥攖o be able to have, without the pressure of time, the possibility of retaking this opinion, taking the good that was done in the Chamber of Deputies, because some modifications were correct,” Menchaca, who chairs the Senate Justice Committee, said, according to a translation.

He added, however, that the Senate-passed reform initiative that was revised in the Chamber of Deputies could be further “enriched with the participation of the senators.” He also said lawmakers in the opposite chamber sent the Senate a revised bill “with inconsistencies, some of them unconstitutional.”

Despite being granted multiple Supreme Court extensions to enact a policy change, the Congress failed to get the job done by the latest April 2021 deadline鈥攄ue in large part to key differences between the proposals from the two chambers.

The resulting inaction prompted justices to hold a聽vote on a general declaration of unconstitutionality in June. A majority agreed to end criminalization, though the Ministry of Health still has some regulatory authority with respect to permitting personal cultivation.

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

That鈥檚 where the situation stood for weeks as the court鈥檚 latest April 30 deadline approached. There was an expectation that the Senate would again ask the court for an extension, but that did not take place. Instead, lawmakers have begun floating the idea of holding a special legislative session in order to get the job done this year.

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

But Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal Avila 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 鈥渃haos.鈥

Sen. Eduardo Ram铆rez Aguilar of the ruling MORENA party said in April that 鈥渁t this time,聽it is important to legislate in the terms that are presented to us鈥 and then consider additional revisions to cannabis laws through subsequent bills.

That鈥檚 been the position many legalization advocates have taken as well, urging lawmakers to pass an imperfect bill immediately and then work on fixing it later.

Under the prior 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. The deputies made changes that principally concern the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies.

One of the most notable changes made by the Chamber of Deputies was 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.

Deputies 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 鈥渃oordinate campaigns against problematic cannabis use and鈥evelop permanent actions to deter and prevent its use by minors and vulnerable groups.鈥

Advocates had hoped for more. Throughout this legislative process, they鈥檝e called for changes to further promote social equity and eliminate strict penalties for violating the law.

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 鈥渋s no problem if they modify the cannabis law, we have no problem.鈥

The president, for his part, said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was聽delayed due to minor 鈥渕istakes鈥 in the proposal.

The legalization bill聽cleared a joint group of Senate committees聽prior to the full floor vote in that chamber last year, 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 last year as well, but the pandemic delayed consideration of the issue. 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.

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