The Mexican Senate approved a landmark cannabis legalization bill last week, bringing the country one step closer to creating the largest legal cannabis market in the world. The measure now heads to Mexico’s lower legislative chamber, as activists assert that the bill is flawed.

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that laws prohibiting recreational cannabis are unconstitutional and ordered legislative reform. The nation’s lawmakers are now working to codify that decision before the current legislative session ends in December. Under the bill approved by senators last week, adults would be permitted to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis and cultivate a limited number of cannabis plants for personal use.

Activists Say Bill Is Flawed

However, some activists, including Julio Salazar, a senior lawyer and legalization advocate with the nonprofit group Mexico United Against Crime, have said that the bill is flawed, favoring large corporations over small businesses and family farms. The measure also does little to strip the cannabis trade from the cartels in Mexico, where more than 100,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in recent years.

“I’m not sure if the initiative being pushed by Congress actually makes things better,” Salazar said before the Senate vote. “It makes a cannabis market for the rich and continues to use criminal law to perpetuate a drug war that has damaged the poorest people with the least opportunities.”

The bill would allow private companies to sell cannabis to the public, but consumers would be required to register for a government license to purchase cannabis, a provision many say would perpetuate the popularity of the country’s illicit market. Another requirement for a track-and-trace system similar to one established in California is seen by many as unworkable in a largely rural nation.

“The legislation being pushed took the worst parts of all the different models,” Salazar said. “They took the consumer registry from Uruguay that is excessive. They included the traceability requirement from the United States, which makes sense over there because regulation is local but not in Mexico where it would be federal. And we also copied the lack of reparations to help indigenous communities or those most affected by the war on drugs.”

Zara Snapp, co-founder of the RIA Institute, a Mexico City-based drug policy research and advocacy group, believes that bill will exclude small businesses and currently illicit cultivators from participating in the world’s largest legal cannabis market once the law goes into effect.

“We want a legal framework that can bring some of these players in from the illegal market into a legal one,” Snapp said. “The purchase price needs to be low enough to undercut the illegal market for consumers. … You also have to make sure there are enough entry points for [growers] to move over.”

Snap said that if 30 percent of the currently illicit growers can be brought into a regulated market, “that’s 30 percent that are paying taxes and out of the shadows, when before it was zero percent.”

Supreme Court Deadline Looms

Mexico’s Supreme Court has set a December 15 deadline for lawmakers to legalize cannabis for recreational use by adults. But 60 percent of the nation believes that cannabis should remain illegal, a statistic that is influencing how the legislature approaches the task.

“Public opinion is important right now because it impacts how politicians think,” Snapp said. “But what the politicians need to remember is that we are not at this point because of public opinion — we are here because the Supreme Court ruled on multiple occasions that any and all Mexicans have the right to the free consumption of cannabis, and inhibiting personal use infringes that right.”

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