It’s not the first time. It’s not even the second. We can only hope it’ll be the last. As the third country set for federal recreational cannabis legalization, once again Mexico delayed its cannabis bill. New date? Not until April 2021.
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A couple weeks ago the bill passed the Senate and was looking to make it all the way through. Mexico, and the rest of the world, waited for today to come so that the government could meet its new official deadline for this cannabis bill. But what seemed like a sure thing days ago, turned into a not-gonna-happen today, when officially Mexico delayed its cannabis bill again.
Some background on the issue
The whole issue of cannabis legalization came up in an interesting way in Mexico. In most countries, when a person or group in government wants to initiate new legislation, they draft a bill that then must be discussed, fought over, changed to meet others’ needs, and then finally voted on in some way. Mexico does this too, but it’s not how cannabis got the free legalization pass.
Mexico also has something called jurisprudence (jurisprudencia). This allows for laws to essentially be changed through the court system, and not the legislative system. In the case of Mexico, Mexican law uses a form of it called jurisprudence constantia, meaning, if there are five separate supreme court rulings on a single subject, with at least eight justices giving approval, and if those rulings are consecutive, the outcome becomes binding for all lower courts. A couple supreme court rulings in October of 2018, sealed the five consecutive rulings concerning the ability to use cannabis for personal use.
It didn’t start in 2018, but rather 2015, when four members of The Mexican Society for Tolerant Self-Consumption, won through the Supreme Court the ability to grow, possess, and transport cannabis. The court’s Criminal Chamber made the decision that individuals have the right to grow and distribute cannabis for their own personal use. Then, in 2018, two more supreme court rulings came out to round out the necessary five for jurisprudence. In fact, the rulings were made on the very same day in October of that year, with the ruling being that offenders in individual use cases must be allowed to use cannabis recreationally. The court made the order for the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk to allow the complainants to consume cannabis, so long as they do not commercialize it.
To be clear, the five court rulings don’t actually legalize cannabis for recreational use, but they do create a legal contradiction that must be fixed. Since nothing changed in terms of written legislation, all written legislation concerning cannabis in Mexico still technically stands. However, since no lower court can rule in opposition to the Supreme Court now that the five rulings have been made, it means that the courts must allow it, even if the written laws do not. This puts the Mexican legislative system in opposition to the judiciary system.
The main reason given by the courts for their decisions to allow cannabis use, is that as personally developed human beings – who are given the right to personal development by the Mexican constitution – people have the right to choose their own recreational activities, with no government interference. The ruling also stated that cannabis does not contain enough psychoactive properties to justify completely prohibiting use.
What is legal, and what is not?
A case like this can be a bit misleading because it implies more than it actually allows. For anyone who thinks they can get away with any cannabis crime because of these supreme court rulings, this isn’t true at all. Even with the court ruling that recreational use is fine for individuals, it certainly doesn’t mean that courts can’t find offenders guilty of plenty other cannabis crimes.
Mexico, like most of the world, illegalized cannabis use in the early 1900’s, however, the country decriminalized it, and many other drugs, in 2009. The decriminalization was a measure taken to try to curb Mexican cartel activity and violence, one of many tactics used over the years. This also instituted personal use rights which allow individuals to have up to five grams, with more than this leading to possible prison time.
Any sale or supply crime is illegal in Mexico, and according to Mexico’s Federal Criminal Code, offenders caught doing these crimes can land themselves in prison for 10-25 years. The Criminal Code has been updated to essentially decriminalize cultivation for personal use when caught the first time, though repeat offenders can still face prison time.
When the final two supreme court rulings came out in 2018, it created the necessity for the legislative system to come up with new legislation to go in-line with the court rulings. Originally slated to be released at the end of 2019, the Supreme Court gave Congress a six-month extension and Mexico delayed the cannabis bill. Whether it was due to the coronavirus or infighting, that date was postponed once again in April until December 15th. The day it was due in, the Supreme Court once again allowed another delay, this time setting yet another deadline for April 30th, 2021. This is now the third time Mexico delayed its cannabis bill. The extension was requested by the Lower House’s Dulce Maria Sauri in a statement to the court, which complained about the complexity of the issue and needing more time.
Just last month, the Mexican Senate passed a legalization bill with a vote of 82-18 which would allow individuals to have up to 28 grams (one ounce), to grow up to six plants, and for the initiation of a licensing framework for a free market trade. While it passed the Senate with flying colors, the Lower House obviously was having a harder time coming to a decision. When Mexican legislators do finally come up with a fully passable bill, it will make Mexico the third country to be fully federally legal, behind Uruguay, and Canada, and create possibly the largest cannabis market to date.
Why is this happening, and what to expect?
The spread of the coronavirus took the blame for this most recent delay, however this undermines the fact that plenty of legislating has been done in Mexico during this time, including the Senate passing the bill. The politics of passing a bill can be nauseating, with each side trying to make sure it gets what it wants out of it. Funny enough, one of the holdups seems to be that a majority of citizens actually are not for legalization, at least according to recent polling. However, in a country with a lot of cartel activity, and which is situated just south of legal US markets, perhaps there are other issues holding it up that aren’t being spoken about as much.
Since Mexico delayed its cannabis bill, there has been no change yet in law, and there isn’t any way of saying yet what the final bill will be. However, the last published details when it passed the Senate included the following as part of the new law: Adults can have up to one ounce, but up to 200 grams is decriminalized. Smoking would also be permitted in public, and would be treated much like cigarette smoking, with not many further restrictions (which is unlike other legalized places). According to the draft legislation, about 40% of licenses would be reserved for low-income, indigenous communities, and while this does offer some protection to local farmers, cultivators would still have to install security equipment which could be rather costly.
It’s nearly impossible to say how a market will really do, as this is dependent on the buying behavior of the public, and the basic price points established. But some estimates say that when Mexico joins the global market, it can increase it to over $100 billion by 2024. Not only would this bring in a large amount of tax revenue for Mexico, but it could also reduce spending on law enforcement related to cannabis by as much as $200 million a year. For a poor country, these are very helpful financial factors. The new industry would bring new jobs, with the same source expecting 75,000 new jobs to be created. The bill also sets a 1% THC limit for hemp, and requires the creation of a new agency to oversee the entire cannabis market.
The both frustrating and reassuring aspect to Mexico’s delayed cannabis bill is that while it’s a requirement that must happen, there doesn’t seem to be a law to ensure that deadlines are met. So we know it’s a part of the future, but we have no idea when it can be expected for sure. What we do know, is that 2020 will finish itself out, and Mexico will still be waiting for its recreational cannabis legislation.
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