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.
New Jersey Voters Will Decide On Marijuana Legalization Next Year, Senate Leaders Say
New Jersey lawmakers are giving up on plans to enact marijuana legalization through the legislature and are now seeking to put the question before voters on the 2020 ballot.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) announced on Monday that while they had “made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively,” the “votes just aren’t there.” As a result, they filed a proposal that would allow residents to vote on legalization as a constitutional amendment.
“We are moving forward with a plan to seek voter approval to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey,” the leaders said in a press release. “We introduced legislation today to authorize a public referendum for a proposal that will lead to the creation of a system that allows adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes in a responsible way.”
— Brian Thompson (@brian4NY) November 18, 2019
“This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax,” they said.
The plan, which NJ.com first reported, is to have the legislature to approve the referendum proposal and get the ballot measure set for a vote in the general election next November. Sweeney and Scutari said they are “confident it will be approved by the Senate, the Assembly and the voters.”
“We will now move forward with a plan that helps correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color,” they said. “We can make real progress towards social justice at the same time that cannabis is made safe and legal.”
After months of negotiation, it became apparent that that progress wasn’t going to happen legislatively in the short-term, with Sweeney indicating as early as May that legalization would likely have to be decided through a voter referendum.
Text of the resolution calling for a referendum doesn’t offer many details about what the proposed legal cannabis market would look like; rather it generally describes a system allowing adults 21 and older to use and purchase marijuana from authorized retail facilities. The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission would be responsible for regulating the program. And cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax, with no additional excise tax added.
As written, the draft ballot question is worded somewhat confusingly. Voters would be asked: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”
“Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis,” it continues. “The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Retail sales of cannabis products in this new market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, and no other form of tax.”
Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana celebrated news of the legislature abandoning plans to pursue legalization legislatively this session and said it would invest resources into a campaign to dissuade voters from supporting the proposed ballot initiative.
BREAKING: New Jersey State Senate abandons push to legalize marijuana during 'lame duck' session.
The marijuana industry outspent SAM 86-1 in this effort.
Our statement: pic.twitter.com/MPtI2fNIzx
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) November 18, 2019
While adult-use legalization hasn’t panned out as advocates hoped, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a bill significantly expanding the state’s medical cannabis program in July. Sweeney had pointed to that reform move as one reason legalization negotiations stalled.
It’s not clear how the ballot approach is going to impact discussions about regionally coordinating legalization plans in the Northeast, which has been ongoing since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) met to talk about the issue over the summer.
During a joint meeting of governors from around the region last month, Murphy said that “doing things in an intelligent, coordinated, harmonious way is good for the entirety of not just our states but our residents” and emphasized the need for social justice components in a legal cannabis market.
Read the text of the New Jersey marijuana legalization referendum resolution below:
Sanders Pledges Legal Marijuana ‘In Every State’ As Biden Faces ‘Gateway Drug’ Backlash
As former Vice President Joe Biden faces a backlash over his suggestion that marijuana could be a ‘gateway’ drug, rival presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), as well as entrepreneur Andrew Yang, are touting their own support for cannabis reform proposals
One day after Biden said he doesn’t support national cannabis legalization because there’s “not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Sanders offered a competing vision, emphasizing in a speech that he wants to “make marijuana legal in every state in the country,” rather than allow prohibition to continue in certain states.
The senator also discussed other elements of a cannabis reform plan he released last month, including his pledge to “expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana” and provide funding to promote participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“It sounds unfair that when we legalize marijuana, you end up having a handful of corporations controlling that industry,” Sanders said during the Sunday event in Las Vegas. “We have built into our criminal justice program an effort to provide many billions of dollars in help to people in the African-American community, Latino community, other communities, the people who have been hit the hardest by the war on drugs, to help them profit off a legal marijuana system.”
Watch Sanders’s marijuana comments, around 33:00 into the video below:
Sanders described his three-step plan to prevent large corporations from controlling the cannabis market during an interview on Showtime’s Desus & Mero last month.
Separately, he took to Twitter on Sunday to highlight new polling showing that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
The American people are united on issue after issue. We must legalize marijuana now—and expunge all past marijuana convictions as a matter of racial and economic justice. https://t.co/NQjp7WOko3
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 17, 2019
Meanwhile, Harris also appeared to take a direct hit at Biden over his “gateway drug” comment, stating that the debate on that matter is already settled.
Let's be clear: marijuana isn't a gateway drug and should be legalized. Glad to see my bill with Rep. Nadler take the next step in the House this week. https://t.co/d6BcMFlpYT
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 18, 2019
“Let’s be clear: marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized,” she tweeted, adding that she’s glad that a bill she and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) filed earlier this year to federally deschedule cannabis is scheduled for a vote in the House this week.
Harris herself has faced pushback from reform advocates and challengers who point out that the senator was involved in criminalizing cannabis consumers, and opposed legalization, during her time as a prosecutor.
Yang, for his part, presented a visual contrast to Biden on Monday, sharing photos of him smiling, surrounded by dozens of trimmed marijuana plants in an undisclosed facility.
He also wrote in a tweet that cannabis “should be legal nationwide” and linked to a campaign site page laying out his reform plan.
Marijuana should be legal nationwide. It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist. https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) November 18, 2019
“It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist,” Yang said.
Biden has drawn criticism from lawmakers outside of the presidential race as well, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calling him out on Monday.
Get with the program, @JoeBiden.
Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.
The war on drugs has ruined countless lives. It's past time we end this senseless prohibition.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) November 18, 2019
“Get with the program, @JoeBiden,” the congressman, who has spearheaded Capitol Hill efforts to end federal prohibition, said. “Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.”
“The war on drugs has ruined countless lives,” he said. “It’s past time we end this senseless prohibition.”
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Bernie Sanders.
AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.
The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”
Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized.
These are matters of public health.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 18, 2019
This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.
To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.
There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.
Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.
But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.