The lower house of parliament in Mexico approved a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalise recreational, medical and scientific use of marijuana, potentially making the Latin American country one of the world’s largest regulated markets for the plant.
The proposed law is being described as a game-changer for Mexico, which has been gripped by a violent drug war for the past several years. The bill will now proceed to the upper house for review and voting.
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The landmark legal change is backed by the administration of left-wing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador –popularly called AMLO for his initials– whose ruling Morena party has a majority in both houses of parliament.
If the bill becomes law, Mexico will be the third country in the world after Uruguay and Canada to legalise the recreational use of marijuana across the nation.
What is in the proposed Mexican cannabis law
The law will essentially authorise the use of marijuana for recreational purposes by persons of legal age. The move to legislate on the topic follows a 2018 judgment by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which declared the prohibition on consumption unconstitutional. Under current Mexican laws, it is illegal to carry more than five grams of marijuana.
When the new law comes into force, users would be allowed to carry 28g, or around 28 cannabis cigarettes, according to EFE news agency. Holding between 28 and 200g could invite a maximum fine of 10,754 pesos (about $ 512), and above 200g a prison sentence. Possessing more than 5 or 6 kilos can be punished with 15 years in prison.
Recreational users will also be permitted to grow up to 6 cannabis plants at home. If there is more than one user in the house, a maximum of 8 plants can be allowed. The plants cannot leave the house, however. A permit to keep cannabis plants at home will have to be renewed every year.
The law will also allow the creation of non-profit cannabis associations of up to 20 members, which under a licence can cultivate plants for recreational consumption. To be eligible for membership, applicants need to prove they have not been convicted for narcotrafficking or organised crime. Alcohol consumption inside the association shall be prohibited.
Smoking in front of minors, in schools, workplaces and in all those spaces where tobacco smoking is not allowed, such as restaurants, would remain prohibited. The law also bans passive smoking, meaning users would practically have to consume cannabis products at home or at cannabis associations, the report said.
Licenced shops will be allowed to sell marijuana and its derivatives for recreational use. However, selling through vending machines, telephone, mail or the internet will be illegal, as would be propaganda campaigns promoting its use.
Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture will grant permits for growing and distributing industrial hemp, a variant of the cannabis plant used in textiles, paper, oils and fuels.
Significance of the law
President López Obrador has supported the law, saying that it can help the government deal with the country’s infamous drug cartels, which cause the deaths of thousands every year. Mexico’s population is nearly 13 crores, slightly more than the number of people in Maharashtra.
The country has already legalised medical cannabis three years ago.
Critics, however, have said that legalisation is unlikely to have a major impact on the illicit drug trade, as many cartels now focus on more profitable contraband substances such as fentanyl and methamphetamines to generate revenue.
The bill has been approved in the lower house of parliament–the Chamber of Deputies– by 316 votes to 129, and will most probably be passed by the upper house–the Senate– which had already approved it once in November. The latter is voting again to second some alterations made to the bill by the lower house.
According to the BBC, companies from Canada and the US state of California are believed to be interested in entering the country’s massive cannabis once the law is enforced.