Mexico to become the world’s largest regulated cannabis market

Today the Senate of Mexico approved an adult-use legalization bill, with eighty-two senators voting in favor of legalizing cannabis, and 18 against, with seven abstaining. The bill must next be approved by the lower house of Congress and signed into law by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The legislation has been a long time coming. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibition of cannabis is unconstitutional and mandated that legislators change the laws accordingly. Two years later, senators were still arguing the details. But the usual political infighting was enriched by some rather delightful hi-jinks on the part of drug policy activists and, perhaps more surprisingly, advocates from within the legislature itself.

Joints, comic books, and guerilla gardens…

Progressive legalization advocates are partially responsible for the law’s slow progress. Alleging that the original legislation would favor large foreign corporations over small farms, advocates argued for diversity and equity in licensing and pushed to lower the penalties for violating the new rules.

Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero receives her gift.

Fearing that the law would never see the light of day (like the medical law that passed in 2017 but has yet to be implemented), activists got creative. To call attention to the debate, they planted 350 cannabis plants in front of senate headquarters and named the garden after María Sabina, the indigenous (Mazateca) Oaxacan healer who became an accidental hippie luminary due to her use of psilocybin in traditional ceremonies.

An Instagram post from the activist group Movimiento Cannábico Mexicano showing the Senate-adjacent pot plantation

Pro-pot legislators have also played a role in keeping the conversation front and center. This September Senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza arrived at work with a gift for Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero, who had issued a legalization proposal in 2018, back when she still served as a senator for the Morena party. Sánchez was delighted with the potted cannabis plant and said she’d plant it in her personal garden.

This was not the first time Sánchez had been targeted with a gift of cannabis–A year ago, Deputy Ana Lucía Riojas Martínez, an independent, handed Sánchez a joint while on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies. The secretary of the interior accepted the joint with a smile. Meanwhile, Senator Jesusa Rodríguez, of the ruling Morena party, also displayed a cannabis plant on her desk and promoted a pro-pot comic book with illustrations by the famous cartoonist Rius.

What will legalization mean for Mexico?

It appears these efforts have paid off. At last glance, the proposed law had some impressively progressive provisions. Senators are now voting on specific articles, so it’s possible that there will be changes…But here’s what seems likely:

The new law will establish a regulated cannabis market in Mexico. Adults 18 and older will be able to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use. Due to the push from activists and pro-pot legislators, citizens will be fined instead of charged if they’re caught carrying more than the legal 28 grams but less than 200 grams.

In a significant departure from all US cannabis laws, it will be legal to light up in public, and Mexicans will be allowed to establish “cannabis associations,” or places to gather and smoke, provided they don’t serve alchohol and there’s a smoke shield to prevent neighborhood saturation.

Advertising cannabis products will be illegal, and the scope of products will be limited–no cannabis energy drinks or cannabis products that contain alchohol, nicotine, or caffeine. It will remain illegal to consume weed in the presence of children, at any large gathering where children might be present, while in the workplace, while driving a vehicle, and anywhere tobacco use is prohibited, which means any bar or restaurant.

The government will be issuing five types of licenses, including separate licenses for cultivation and processing. “Vulnerable and disadvantaged” groups will supposedly be given first consideration when licenses are handed out. For the first five years after implementation, the law mandates that at least 40 percent of cannabis business licenses must be granted to applicants from indigenous, low-income, or historically marginalized communities, including women.

It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out–both in the final version of the law and in its implementation. Stay tuned!

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