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Mexico creates a legal recreational marijuana market

An activist in favor of legalization smokes marijuana in the demonstration installed outside the Senate of the Republic.Nayeli Cruz

Mexico advances in the creation of a legal marijuana market. The Senate has unblocked a law that had been stalled for two years and approved the rule that regulates cannabis on Thursday. The substance will be legal, there will be cannabis clubs exclusively for adults and the State will have control of the production process, from the commercialization of the seeds until the herb reaches final consumers. Celebrated as a historic milestone by senators from all parties, civil organizations criticize that it is a simulation because there are still penalties for possession, strict restrictions on consumption and barriers for small producers to join the market.

Approved by 82 votes in favor to 18 against and seven abstentions, the new law creates the Mexican Institute of Cannabis, which will report to the Ministry of Health and will be in charge of all regulatory matters: permits for production, for marketing and to found consumer associations, as well as designated areas for smoking psychoactive varieties. You will not be able to smoke in public places or in front of adolescents or children, although it is not clear how compliance with these measures will be monitored. Each person may have up to four plants in their home, they may have up to 28 grams of marijuana without receiving penalties, and clubs may not have more than 20 members. “This is one of the most controversial opinions that we will have to approve,” acknowledged Julio Menchaca, senator of the ruling Morena and author of the project. “In Mexico cannabis is consumed and produced, we have to face reality,” said his benchmate, Miguel Ángel Navarro.

Civil associations have claimed that provisions on labeling, production conditions and limitations on obtaining seeds make it difficult for peasants, the collateral victims of the nearly 15-year war against drug trafficking, to enter the legal business. Instead, they say, it will be the big transnationals and the most powerful companies, which have done lobbying work that almost made the law shipwreck, who will be able to meet these requirements. Former President Vicente Fox and companies from Canada, where it is already legal, are some of those that have signed up for the business. The Canadian industry sees in Mexico a potential market of 2,250 million dollars, according to the Cannacord Genuity consultancy. “We are concerned that the communities cannot move to the legal market and that the companies vertically integrate various stages of production, with licenses,” said Zara Snapp, co-founder of the RIA Institute.

One of the most problematic aspects, pointed out by critics of the approved ruling, is that criminal and administrative sanctions are maintained for consumers. Prison sentences for simple possession, the legal term used to punish drug dealing, have been increased, but those for drug trafficking have been lowered. Possession between 28 and 200 grams will be subject to fines of up to 15,000 pesos (about $ 750). Anyone with more than 200 grams of cannabis can face between five and ten years in prison. Paradoxically, it is the same penalty that is contemplated for someone who deals with more than 28 kilos of weed, a person accused of drug trafficking, who previously faced between 10 and 25 years in prison. “It’s the world upside down,” criticized Lisa Sánchez, director of Mexico United Against Crime. “We are the only country in the world that legalizes marijuana by prohibiting and fining,” he added.

“There is no real decriminalization,” claimed the Mexican Cannabis Movement, which has held a nine-month sit-in and a marijuana plantation outside the upper house in protest. Menchaca has responded that it is not possible to go from prohibitionism to the unrestricted liberation of consumption. “At no time is it intended that the Mexican State becomes a promoter of the adult use of cannabis,” he said. The new law only covers this “adult” or recreational use, medicinal use has been legal since 2017, but it has not been used due to lack of regulations on what can or cannot be done.

In addition to how expensive the ban has been, which has unleashed a wave of violence that has left hundreds of thousands of deaths in recent years, at the center of the debate is that the right that each adult has to decide whether to consume is respected or not. The free development of personality is the basis for which the Supreme Court declared in 2018 that it is unconstitutional to prohibit recreational use. The court gave a one-year deadline for the Senate to resolve the matter, which has been postponed three times due to the pandemic and the lack of agreements. The extensions were not used to have comprehensive regulation, despite complaints from organizations and consumers in 12 parliamentary forums. “We are left to duty, a punitive vision is maintained,” lamented Emilio Álvarez icaza, an independent senator.

The legislators came to the session with alarm clocks with the legend “it’s time to regulate”, some with plants and paraphernalia with the symbol of marijuana. The harsh process until legalization concluded with last minute modifications, which had not been approved in commissions; complaints outside the Senate, and many expectations about the benefits for the field and the fight against insecurity, but more doubts about how this market will look on the ground. Between celebrations for a historic decision and claims of a lost opportunity, the deadline set by the Court, which expired on December 15, was met. Pending ratification in the lower house, the law will be reviewed after a year of its application to improve it.