The next president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is open-minded when it comes to drug policy. Though his personal stance on cannabis legalization remains relatively opaque for now, one of his key advisors who is expected to occupy a top cabinet office is all-in on ending prohibition.
López Obrador, the leftist who became president-elect in a landslide victory on Sunday, expressed openness to considering legalizing all drugs in the country during a May debate. But he’s demurred on taking a personal stance on marijuana legalization specifically.
That said, López Obrador’s pick for interior secretary during the transition, Olga Sánchez Cordero, is pushing the president-elect to end the prohibition of cannabis. Last month, the former Supreme Court official said that she would “seek the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use,” according to a translation of an AFP interview. She added that part of her involvement in the new government would be to “propose to Andrés Manuel” ending the prohibition of marijuana cultivation and recreational use.
And in new comments on Wednesday, Sánchez Cordero cited moves to legalize marijuana elsewhere as a reason that Mexico shouldn’t wait to act.
“Canada already decriminalized, and [marijuana is] decriminalized in several states of the United States. What are we thinking?” she said in the interview with W Radio. “We are going to try to move forward.”
She also said the incoming administration would consider legalizing the growth of opium poppies to be used in the production of pharmaceutical drugs, adding that the incoming administration will “have a consultation on the decriminalization of drugs.”
“The debate between justice, health and drug trade has never been led by the Mexican state,” Sánchez Cordero recently tweeted. “It has only been criminalized and fought with the hardening of sanctions, bringing mourning to thousands of families.”
El debate entre justicia, salud y comercio de drogas nunca ha sido encabezado por el Estado mexicano; sólo se ha criminalizado y combatido con el endurecimiento de sanciones, trayendo luto a miles de familias. Les comparto mi columna en @Milenio. https://t.co/NkG9dsZ38G
— Olga Sánchez Cordero (@M_OlgaSCordero) June 6, 2018
“The world war on drugs has failed,” she wrote last month in an op-ed for Milenio. “Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out.”
“Criminalizing -in any case- consumption has not been a factor that diminishes the use of narcotics.”
“The illegal obtaining of drugs creates a personal risk for users and only benefits the criminal networks because their economic and belligerent wealth is fostered… It is known that the United States is the main consumer of drugs in the world; and 23 states of 50 that make it up have [legal] cannabis markets for recreational and medicinal use. Uruguay, Switzerland and New Zealand have successfully taken the first step in opting for legalization through a responsible regulatory context, based on medical, sociological, economic and political evidence.”
(At the time of publication, 30 states in the U.S. had effectively legalized marijuana for at least medical or recreational use, and only Uruguay and Canada have ended the prohibition of cannabis for adults, though many countries allow medical cannabis and have instituted progressive drug policy reforms.)
One of the president-elect’s favorite campaign slogans translates to “hugs, not gunfire,” and is meant to reflect López Obrador’s anti-corruption platform, which includes combating illegal drug market violence.
López Obrador has made clear that he’s interested in an alternative approach to the drug war, proposing amnesty for low-level drug offenders—with a focus on farmers caught cultivating opium poppy and marijuana— and arguing that a softer approach to drug enforcement efforts could be more effective than the status quo, which he believes has failed.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 3, 2018
“I will achieve peace, that’s my commitment, I will achieve peace and end the war—we are not going to continue with the same strategy that hasn’t brought us positive results,” López Obrador said at a recent rally. “By the middle of my six-year term, there will be no war, and the situation will be completely different.”
In spite of the president-elect’s grandiose promises, however, he’s declined to answer questions from the press about his personal stance on cannabis policy.
The current status of marijuana in Mexico
Over the course of his six years in office, outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s position on cannabis policy evolved demonstrably. Two years after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that a group of activists was allowed to grow marijuana because it determined that prohibiting cannabis consumption was unconstitutional, Peña Nieto signed a decree that legalized medical cannabis nationwide. However, legal medical marijuana products are limited to “cannabis derivatives” that contain less than one percent THC.
The decree also mandated that Mexico’s Ministry of Health implement regulatory policies around cannabis and first develop a research program before the government broadens its marijuana laws.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has advocated for legalization for years.
“How different it feels to be by the side of business community members who are responsible people and decision makers, rather than being by the side of Chapo Guzman or all those criminals that kill and kill and kill,” Fox said last year, referring to the infamous drug cartel leader.
The recreational marijuana market remains illegal under federal law in Mexico. Whether López Obrado will take steps to expand the country’s medical cannabis system or push for full legalization after he takes office on December 1 is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, a growing number of U.S. states are ending marijuana prohibition, as is Canada.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.