Mexico's Chamber of Deputies approves revised marijuana legalization bill

The Senate approved an initial version of cannabis legislation late last year, and the Chamber of Deputies was due to consider it earlier, but this process has been delayed, in part due to complications resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Today, two days after the health and justice committees amended and brought forward the bill, lawmakers passed it in plenary by a vote of 316-129, with 23 abstentions.

MP Arturo Hernandez Tapia said at the start of Wednesday's debate that legalization represents a "historic opportunity to end decades of hypocritical and moralistic attitudes that have restricted people's freedom", while prohibition is an example of "Unwarranted paternalism and state perfectionism".

Under the proposal that has since emerged, adults 18 and older would be allowed to buy and own up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow up to six plants for their own use. But MPs made committee revisions to the Senate-approved version, including regulatory structure, commercial market rules and licensing policies, among other items.

One of the most notable changes is that the revised bill does not establish a new independent regulator to oversee the licensing and implementation of the program, as approved by the Senate. Instead, it would give that authority to an existing agency, the National Commission against Drug Addiction.

It remains to be seen whether the chamber will approve the additional amendments on Wednesday and what they will look like. The defenders of the cause keep the hope of some revisions.

Throughout this legislative process, they have called for changes to further promote social fairness and eliminate strict penalties for violating the law. They were also frustrated to see a provision added in committee that requires people who want to grow their own cannabis at home to register with the government for permission.

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“The current ruling criminalizes users, imposes criminal and administrative penalties on them and invades their privacy,” advocacy group Mexico Unido said ahead of Wednesday's vote. "So although cannabis is regulated, the police can make arrests."

MP Carmen Medel Palma stressed to the assembly that it is "necessary to establish a new paradigm in drug policy" in Mexico.

“The damage caused by prohibition and the war on drugs in Mexico has caused more damage than the health conditions attributed to drug use,” said MP Rubén Cayetano García. "Cannabis is not considered to be one of the serious public health problems in Mexico."

The legislation also includes a new category of license for vertically integrated companies that can control all aspects of growing, manufacturing and selling - although there is language intended to ensure that regulators "prevent a merger. excessive which affects the market. "

Although the bill prioritizes these licenses for marginalized communities, human rights defenders fear the criteria are not strict and specific enough to ensure this is the case. They are pushing for an amendment to have a specific percentage of licenses reserved for these communities, but it remains to be seen if that will happen.

Regarding public consumption, marijuana would be treated the same as tobacco under the proposal, but it could not be sold online or by mail.

After discussion of the amendments, the bill will return to the Senate, which will review it and possibly approve the changes. Senator Ricardo Monreal, of the MORENA party, said ahead of the Chamber of Deputies vote that there was "no problem if they change the cannabis law, we have no problem".

It is their job and their function. In return we will consider whether they are appropriate or not, he said The idea is to regulate the use of cannabis and not to forget that the prohibitionist approach has created big social problems in the country 

Lawmakers are working against the clock to comply with the Supreme Court's mandate to end prohibition by April. It is the latest in a series of deadlines they have faced since 2018, as the court approved a series of requests to push it back due to factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor "errors" in the proposal.

He said "there was no time for a review" in the legislature before the Dec. 15 deadline set by the Supreme Court, but noted that the issues that need to be to be resolved are "questions of form" and "not of substance".

The legalization bill was passed by a joint group of Senate committees before being voted on in plenary last year, with some amendments made after members informally reviewed and debated the proposal. during a virtual hearing.

Members of the Senate Justice, Health and Legislative Studies Committees also approved an earlier version of legal cannabis legislation last year, but the pandemic has delayed consideration of the matter. Senator Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar, of the MORENA party, said in April that the legalization of cannabis could fill the treasury coffers as the economy recovers from the health crisis.

As lawmakers scramble to push reform legislation forward, some members and activists have made lighter efforts to draw attention to this issue. These efforts have mostly consisted of planting and offering marijuana. In September, a senior administration official received a cannabis plant as a gift from a senator, and she said she would make it part of her personal garden. Another lawmaker offered the same official, Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature in August, when Senator Jesusa Rodríguez of the MORENA party decorated her office with a marijuana plant. Advocates for drug policy reform have also grown hundreds of marijuana plants outside the Senate, putting pressure on lawmakers to keep their promises to advance legalization.

Tags : LawMexico

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