Mexican lawmakers put the brakes on efforts to legalize marijuana once again. And the nation’s Supreme Court obliged and granted the delay — a delay to the Court’s own mandate — once again, even as Senate-passed reform legislation advanced this week through at least two committees in their government’s lower chamber, called the Chamber of Deputies.
This is just the latest extension the court has approved since it deemed the prohibition on personal use and cultivation of cannabis unconstitutional in 2018 and mandated that Congress end the policy. The Senate passed the legalization bill last month ahead of the earlier December 15 deadline.
But now the court says legislators have until the end of the next session, which starts in February and ends April 30, to enact the reform. This is the fourth deadline the body has imposed. First it was October 2019, then April 2020, then December 2020 and now April 2021.
This Chamber of Deputies has been forced to implement extraordinary measures to protect the right to health and life of legislators and other public servantsChamber President Dulce María Sauri Riancho
Overall, the bill would establish a regulated cannabis market, allowing adults 18 and older to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
Leaders in the Chamber of Deputies said they needed the postponement to further review the Senate-passed legislation. However, that hasn’t stopped several committees from taking up the bill, with the Human Rights and Budget and Public Account Committees having already considered and advanced it in recent days just before the new deadline extension request.
In her request for the deadline extension, Chamber President Dulce María Sauri Riancho stressed the “complexity of the issue at hand” and added that the coronavirus pandemic “has made it difficult for the legislative process” to move forward “with the depth and care” needed to address the seriousness of the cannabis issue.
“This Chamber of Deputies has been forced to implement extraordinary measures to protect the right to health and life of legislators and other public servants,” she wrote, “which has inevitably affected the work of the committees and of the plenary sessions.”
While advocates are eager for Congress to formally end prohibition, this new delay will give them more time to try to convince legislators to address their concerns about certain provisions of the current bill, namely the limited nature of its social equity components and strict penalties for violating rules.
“It’s disappointing that the two legislative bodies couldn’t have better coordinated their work in order to ensure that they meet the obligation and the deadline made by the Supreme Court,” Zara Snapp, a legalization activist with the Instituto RIA and the coalition #RegulacionPorLaPaz, told Marijuana Moment.
“Since that didn’t happen, we hope that as they work on this in the next legislative session, they will ensure that human rights are at the center as well as improve and expand the opportunities for communities affected by prohibition,” she said, adding that it would be a shame if any additional revisions further benefited transnational corporations instead of local farmers.
There were several revisions made in the Senate prior to last month’s vote, but most of those were technical in nature.
However, there were a number of notable changes, such as an increase from the initial limit of four self-cultivated plants per person and to make it so people who grow cannabis for personal use will not be subject to a requirement to have regulators track plants.
An additional change mandates that the government clear criminal records of people with past cannabis convictions within six months.
Lawmakers also removed a prohibition on owning more than one type of marijuana license, allowing for vertical integration of cannabis businesses. A previous version of the bill would have only allowed people from vulnerable communities to hold more than one license type.
Another modification that advocates are not happy with says that nonprofit associations of consumers that collectively cultivate cannabis must be located at least 500 meters from schools, sports and recreation centers and anywhere that third parties who have not given their consent could be exposed to smoke.
The legalization bill cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote, with some amendments being made after members informally considered and debated the proposal during a virtual hearing.
Members of the Senate’s Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies Committees had approved a prior version of legal cannabis legislation in March, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed consideration of the issue.
Senate President Eduardo Ramírez previously said that there was a “consensus” to achieve the reform by the court-mandated December deadline, but that did not pan out.
The legislation makes some attempts to mitigate the influence of large marijuana corporations. For example, it states that for the first five years after implementation, at least 40 percent of cannabis business licenses must be granted to those from indigenous, low-income or historically marginalized communities.
The Mexican Institute of Cannabis would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses.
Public consumption of marijuana would be allowed, except in places where tobacco use is prohibited or at mass gatherings where people under 18 could be exposed.
Households where more than one adult lives would be limited to cultivating a maximum of eight plants. The legislation also says people “should not” consume cannabis in homes where there are underaged individuals. Possession of more than 28 grams but fewer than 200 grams would be considered an infraction punishable by a fine but no jail time.
Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca 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 pandemic.
As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there’s 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 gifted a cannabis plant by a senator on the Senate floor, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.
A different lawmaker gave the same official, Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies last year.
Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature in August, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the MORENA party 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.
This piece is a part of a content sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.