After a marathon 14-hour debate, the lower house of Congress approved a bill early Thursday to legalize recreational marijuana, bringing Mexico one step closer to becoming the world’s largest legal cannabis market.
The Federal Law for the Regulation of Cannabis passed the Chamber of Deputies with 250 votes in favor, 163 against and 14 abstentions.
The legislation, which legalizes possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana for personal use and the cultivation of up to six plants in one’s home, has now been returned to the Senate for ratification of the changes made by the lower house.
The Chamber of Deputies made seven changes to the law after approving it in general terms on Wednesday afternoon.
One proposed by the ruling Morena party makes possession of more than 5.6 kilograms of marijuana punishable by three to seven years imprisonment and fines of up to 26,886 pesos (US $1,300).
Among the other six changes is one that gives the Agriculture Ministry the exclusive power to grant licenses for the industrial use of cannabis and another that makes it illegal to convert forested land into marijuana plantations.
The bill passed by the lower house eliminates the Senate’s proposal to create a Mexican cannabis institute to regulate the legal marijuana market, giving that authority to the National Commission Against Addictions (Conadic).
Among the responsibilities of Conadic will be to issue, and if necessary revoke, licenses for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes.
The legislation recognizes the right of people aged 18 and over to consume marijuana recreationally as long their use doesn’t affect others, especially children.
It proposes allowing the establishment of cannabis clubs or associations whose members would be permitted to cultivate up to four plants each in a common space or clubhouse as long as total production doesn’t exceed 50 plants. Such spaces would be required to have separate areas for the cultivation and use of marijuana and couldn’t be located in close proximity to schools, cultural institutions, sporting facilities or churches and other places of worship.
Bricks and mortar stores with the appropriate licenses would be permitted to sell marijuana for recreational purposes but the sale via vending machines, over the phone, online, or in any other way that is not face-to-face would be prohibited.
The Chamber of Deputies’ approval of the bill comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on recreational marijuana was unconstitutional.
The Senate approved an earlier version of the bill in November and is expected to pass the new version swiftly before sending it to President López Obrador for promulgation.
However, an organization that opposes the prohibition of drugs says the legislation doesn’t comply with the Supreme Court’s order to eliminate the ban on recreational marijuana.
Mexico United Against Crime (MUCD) said in a statement that recreational marijuana users could still be criminalized because there is a lack of clarity about what penalties apply to possession of different quantities of the plant.
“[The legislation] maintains a system of tolerance thresholds that generate legal uncertainty for users because it’s difficult to understand when a crime and when an administrative offense is being committed,” MUCD said.
“… The simple increase in the quantities for which criminal sanctions apply doesn’t eliminate the space for extortion nor the possibility of the police arbitrarily detaining people due to suspicious appearance,” the organization said.
MUCD was also critical of the legislation because it doesn’t decriminalize the cultivation of marijuana by people with low levels of education and extreme economic needs – mainly small-plot farmers who have long grown cannabis to support themselves and their families.
“In this way marginalization and the criminal punishment of our campesinos is perpetuated. [Campesinos are] the people most affected by prohibition and they should be integrated into the legal market, not kept in illegality,” the group said.
“… We mustn’t create a legal market that only prioritizes the economic benefit of those who participate in the sale [of marijuana] and excludes other less advantaged actors,” MUCD.
It called on the Senate to “correct” the legislation and comply with the mandate of the Supreme Court.
With a population of almost 130 million, Mexico is set to become the most populous country in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana nationwide.