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Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies (La Cámara de Diputados) approved a new federal law for the regulation of cannabis, which adds to the country’s General Health Law and reforms its Federal Penal Code. The final vote was 316 in favor, 129 against, with 23 abstentions. The bill is expected to not see any hold-up in the Senate and then will go to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s desk to sign to finally become law.

With a population of over 120 million, Mexico would become the largest marijuana market in the world if and when the bill passes. Supporters of the bill say a smooth rollout of legal cannabis could bring Mexico into an economic surplus. Other advocates also hope low-income consumers who previously may have fallen victim to extortion from corrupt police officers could now be free of that threat.

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What Legalization Will Look Like

The new law allows people over the age of 18 to purchase and consume up to 28 grams of marijuana daily, which is just under one ounce. They can also grow up to six of their own cannabis plants at home for personal use if they get a permit, but that cannot be sold.

The sale of recreational marijuana for personal use will fall under the National Commission Against Addiction (CONADIC). The cutoff for production, transportation, sale, trade, and supply of cannabis is 5.6 kilograms, or 12.8 pounds unless the business is specially authorized.

However, marijuana consumption will still be illegal anywhere that it’s currently prohibited to smoke tobacco, like workplaces and schools.

In a video, the Chamber of Deputies explains some of the characteristics the new law approves. Translated, it explains,

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“It will regulate the production and commercialization of cannabis and its derivatives, under the focus of free development of personality, public health, and respect of human rights.”

In Mexico, “psychoactive marijuana” and “hemp” are separated, as they are in the United States. With the new law, both will be legal, but edible cannabis products are still outlawed. The Mexican government says it wants further scientific studies evaluating its use.

How Mexico Got Here

This bill has been years in the making. Medical marijuana became legal country-wide in Mexico in 2017.

In 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a full ban on the recreational use of marijuana is unconstitutional. In that country, if five similar rulings are made in the high court, it establishes jurisprudence. The first challenge came in 2015, when Mexico’s Supreme Court decided absolute prohibition on the consumption of marijuana could not be justified, though it didn’t see marijuana use as an absolute right. When the Supreme Court ruled on two different legal challenges in 2018, it changed the course of Mexico’s history.

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The number of countries legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level is growing. At the United States’ borders, Canada and Uruguay have already opted for full legalization of adult-use cannabis. Twelve other nations have scrapped major punishments for its use: Jamaica, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Georgia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Colombia, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, and the Czech Republic.

The War on Drugs

The Council on Foreign Relations estimates organized criminal violence related to drug trafficking in Mexico has ended 150,000 people’s lives since 2006. The Drug War has cost Mexico as much as $134 billion, plus the United States’ contribution of $68.5 million in foreign aid, trying to deal with over 200 different drug trafficking cells.

Smugglers have been sneaking contraband from Mexico to the U.S. for the past century, beginning with alcohol during America’s Prohibition, then shifting to marijuana, then cocaine, and more recently opiates. But the history of Mexico’s cartels is more recent, beginning with “The Godfather” Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo in the 1980s. The Godfather organized the nation’s crime groups and drug gangs and divided Mexico into specified regions with assigned drug-trafficking organizations.

Those groups become competitive and power-hungry, trading loyalties along with blood. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderón sent the military to the streets, trying to wipe out the drug trade. It didn’t work.

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Today, Mexican cartels run rampant, and critics of legalization in the country say making the product legal won’t curb the cartels’ violence. Things haven’t been getting much better in recent years. In 2018, drug-related homicides rose 15% from the year before, totaling 33,341 that the CFR knows about. That number included at least 130 politicians ahead of the 2018 presidential elections in Mexico.

Since more and more states within the U.S. have legalized marijuana, imports of the product into North America have greatly decreased. Cartels in the drug trafficking business have switched their focus to fentanyl and methamphetamines, so critics feel legalization will do little to dissuade cartels.

Challenges to the Bill

Recent polling shows 58% of Mexicans are against legalization. Adults under the age of 40 are more likely to support its use, and men are more likely to than women. College graduates favored its legalization by a 61% margin, while people who had only basic schooling have been largely against it, with 40% saying they’d support it in 2019, but only 23% in favor by July of 2020.

The National Action Party (PAN), one of the three major political parties in the country is staunchly against legalization. PAN tends to support the limited role of government in the economy and is mostly favored by the country’s wealthy elite and urban regions.

Even those who do support legalization feel the bill’s scope is too limited.

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The bill says small farmers and Indigenous people will be given priority access to licenses and says only people within those groups can get more than one license. That may sound like a good idea, but Mexico has plenty of farmers who have been growing marijuana for decades but remain poor because of wars between cartels. Since there aren’t any new policies to address drug trafficking groups’ violence affecting farmers, those who happen to live in high-conflict regions controlled by cartels could be out of luck.

The bill also allows people to obtain an “integral license” allowing companies to create a vertical production chain, with cultivation, production, and sale all falling to the same business owner. Some fear that would give large corporations an advantage.

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