MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico's lower chamber passed a marijuana legalization bill on Wednesday, setting the country on the path to becoming one of the largest legal marijuana markets in the world.
MPs generally agreed to the laws, but discussed details late into the night. The approved legislation, which must be returned to the Senate, would allow recreational marijuana use, but establish a licensing system that is required for the entire production, distribution, conversion and sales chain.
It would also require that individuals, and not just user associations, have permission to grow plants for personal use. Each individual is allowed to have six plants with a maximum of eight per household.
Adults could use marijuana without harming others or children, but if caught in excess of 28 grams, they will be fined. They could face jail if they weighed more than 15 pounds.
Opposition parties have not supported the legislation, which they believe will lead to increased drug use.
In 2015, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of recreational marijuana use. In 2019, the court ordered the government to legislate on the grounds that the ban on its use was unconstitutional.
The court gave the legislature until April 30th to pass a law.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his support and his Morena party has a majority in Congress, which is pushing the legislation. With national parliamentary election campaigns underway in June, the final form of the legislation continues to evolve.
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Critics fear that some changes in the lower chamber jeopardize the original intent.
In the latest version, for example, lawmakers abolished the creation of a new government agency specifically to regulate marijuana. Instead, the management of the new market will go to the existing National Commission against Addiction, which experts say is unable to regulate something this complex.
"They will repeal the law," said Lisa Sánchez, director of Mexico United Against Crime, one of the non-governmental organizations that has been legalizing marijuana for years.
Legislators who endorse the bill say it will bring the marijuana market out of the hands of the powerful Mexican drug cartels and into the government.
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However, experts fear that transnational corporations will be the main beneficiaries rather than the consumers or the farmers who formed the bottom of the drug chain.
Medical marijuana use has been legal in Mexico since 2017 and allowed in a number of other Latin American countries. But only Uruguay allows recreational use in the region.
Even if the Senate passed the lower chamber bill without additional amendments, it would take some time for it to go into effect. A whole legal framework would have to be developed. Such was the case with medical marijuana, which didn't start working until January with the necessary regulations in place.