The legalization of marijuana is one step closer after three Senate committees broadly approved a draft bill that seeks to regulate the plant for medicinal, recreational and industrial use.
At a joint meeting of the Justice, Health and Legislative Studies committees, 26 senators voted in favor of the bill, seven voted against it and eight abstained. The proposed law was approved “en lo general,” or in a general sense, meaning that the individual articles within it remain up for debate and are subject to modification.
The bill, which seeks to make changes to the Federal Health Law and federal criminal code, proposes legalizing the possession by adults of 28 grams of marijuana for personal use. Legal possession of the plant is currently limited to five grams.
The bill also proposes allowing people who require marijuana for medicinal purposes to grow up to 20 plants with the permission of the Mexican Cannabis Institute, a new government department that is not yet operational.
In addition, it stipulates that marijuana possession will not be punished as a drug trafficking offense until a person is carrying more than 200 grams. Prison sentences of up to 10 years can be imposed on people in possession of between 200 grams and 56 kilograms of marijuana, according to the draft bill.
The Cannabis Regulation Law would establish a controlled legal market for the plant that avoids monopolies. In the first five years after legalization, 40% of production licenses would go to people who live in communities affected by drug trafficking.
Lawmakers with the conservative National Action Party (PAN), who opposed the bill, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, who abstained from the vote, stressed that the committees’ approval of the draft law doesn’t mean that all of its different parts have been supported.
The specifics of the bill will be debated in another meeting of the three Senate committees and in a plenary session of the upper house, where a vote could be held as soon as next week. If approved, the legislation would have to be ratified by the lower house and promulgated by President López Obrador in order to become law.
PAN Senator Damián Zepeda said that his party rejected the bill because it would make it easier for young people to obtain drugs. He also charged that the regulation of marijuana would not lead to a reduction in violence.
Antares Vázquez, a senator with the ruling Morena party who voted in favor of the bill despite President López Obrador’s opposition to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, stressed that the law would regulate the plant but not promote it.
When the president’s opposition to recreational marijuana was raised during the meeting of the three Senate committees, Morena senators stressed that the legislative branch of government is separate from the executive.
The Supreme Court has set an April 30 deadline for Congress to legalize marijuana, granting a six-month extension to the Senate after it suspended debate on the issue in October.
The court published eight precedents on the recreational use of the plant in February 2019 that determined that its prohibition is unconstitutional.
Judges ruled that the complete prohibition of marijuana is not a proportional measure to protect people’s health and public order and that criminalization of the drug violates the right to free development of personality.