Mexico: Cannabis Legalization Stumbles—Again

Cannabis legalization in Mexico has seemed both inevitable and elusive for three years now as, despite promising signs, another year will soon come to an end without an agreement among Mexico’s lawmakers. 

Although Senate leaders called legalization a priority and promised to pass adult-use cannabis by the end of the session on December 15, they again failed to do so on time. So proponents are now eyeing 2022. 

For some time in Mexico, reform has looked like a good bet. In October 2018, the nation’s Supreme Court ruled that an absolute ban on the recreational use of cannabis was unconstitutional, and ordered lawmakers to approve a legalization bill before October 2019. But lawmakers failed to reach a consensus on the matter and then COVID-19 delayed the discussion. 

After the Senate passed a legalization bill in November 2020, the Chamber of Deputies asked the Supreme Court for an additional extension to review the and make amendments. The Court granted lawmakers until April 30, 2021 to discuss and approve the bill, which would’ve allowed adults eighteen and older to purchase and possess up to twenty-eight grams of cannabis and cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home for personal use. The lower house of Congress made revisions and sent the bill back to the Senate.  

There the bill cleared two Senate committees, but several senators objected to the Chamber of Deputies’ amendments. Ultimately, the Senate missed the April deadline and chose not to request a new extension.  

One of the biggest points of contention was that the revised bill would have given an existing agency, the National Commission Against Addictions, authority to oversee the licensing and implementation of the cannabis program instead of establishing a new independent regulatory body. This was of concern to some senators who said that leaving that commission in charge of cannabis was stigmatizing.

Lawmakers then said they would call for special sessions in June to discuss the bill in hopes of moving the forward, but that did not happen either. Instead, the Supreme Court voted in June to allow the personal use of cannabis, declaring its prohibition to be unconstitutional, thus confirming its 2018 ruling. Although the decision did not totally legalize cannabis, it allowed Mexico’s residents to request permission to legally consume at home, with certain restrictions, and left the door open for Congress to pass legislation that more fully regulated the sale of cannabis.

Some senators announced in October that they would begin the discussion to pass the bill and even circulated a first draft. 

“In these times, there is no longer room for prohibitionist policies. We are the Mexico of liberties and the people are aware of this,” Senate President Olga Sánchez Cordero said at the time.

And, according to Senator Patricia Mercado, from Movimiento Ciudadano Party, when the legislative period began in September, most lawmakers included cannabis regulation on their agendas. Mercado has led the discussions to legalize cannabis in the Senate. “There was an understanding that five or six laws would come out before the end of the year,” she told Cannabis Wire. “One of them was cannabis regulation.” 

She says that most lawmakers are in favor of supporting a cannabis bill, and yet, it is facing resistance from some political parties, especially from those backing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “It is not a priority for the government, the president specifically. It is something he would not want to see happen,” Mercado said. 

Mercado says a group of senators was set up in November to formulate the draft but they did not prioritize cannabis legislation. “It was a lethargic working group that did not put in a lot of work,” she told Cannabis Wire.

Early Wednesday, the last day of the legislative term, the group filed a document that contained much of what had been in the earlier version passed in the Senate late last year. 

“There was a commitment that the law was going to come out of the Senate,” Mercado said. “We agreed, not on everything, but on presenting this document together.” 

The measure has been signed by twenty senators, who Mercado contends will turn it into a draft bill and introduce it for a vote in February when the next legislative period begins. 

“There is a very powerful social movement with a lot of voice, a lot of power in its message that is pressuring us to make this happen,” she said. “And it will happen next year, I can assure that.”

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