MEXICO CITY—Mexico just took one step closer to becoming the world’s largest legal weed market.
With the passage Wednesday of a landmark weed legalization bill through Mexico’s Lower House of Congress, the country stands on the precipice of full legalization, provided the Senate clears changes to the bill and it passes before a Supreme Court deadline on April 30. Sources told VICE World News that the vote could happen as soon as next week.
With a population of roughly 130 million, Mexico would far surpass the two other countries that have federally legalized the plant, Uruguay and Canada.
Here’s what you need to know:
Will it pass?
Most likely. The Senate, which like the Lower House of Congress, is controlled by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's MORENA party and is expected to pass the new version of the law. Once they've voted, the final remaining step will be for the executive branch of the mercurial president to sign off on it.
What will it do?
While the ins and outs of the law have continued to change, the latest version will treat the public consumption of cannabis similarly to tobacco, meaning that it can potentially be smoked anywhere that allows cigarettes, from park benches in public places to restaurant terraces that do not prohibit smoking.
This is reminiscent of Uruguay, where it's common to see people lighting up joints in public throughout the country and especially in Montevideo's Plaza Independencia, in front of the Legislative Palace where the historic law passed in 2013. In Canada, outdoor smoking is still prohibited in restaurants and bars, and regulated in public depending on the province and city. Some municipalities require smokers to be within several feet of a designated marijuana spliff disposal cylinder.
How much can I grow?
A previous version of the bill allowed people to freely grow six plants for personal use, or eight per household if there are other people of legal age living there. The new article approved requires those interested in home-growing marijuana to apply for a yearly permit, which would not only create a database of growers but require annual trips to government offices.
What’s the downside?
Activists have long sought for the law to include affirmative action initiatives and measures that involved reparations for marijuana growing communities that have been affected by decades of prohibition and persecution. But the most recent version of the law removed an affirmative action article that required 40 percent of growing and cultivation licenses to go to the affected communities "and we thought it should increase," said Zara Snapp, a prominent legalization activist and co-founder of the Mexican research and advocacy organization Instituto RIA.
But now the quota has been removed and these communities will be vaguely given "priority" in the bill.
"When you just put a priority, what does that mean? How do you evaluate that? How you measure priority given when really what you're doing is you're opening up so that companies will be able to capture the market," said Snapp. "So that is very concerning."
Snapp held out hope that the Senate could reinsert some aspect of affirmative action, but accepted it was unlikely.
So, what happens next?
Mexico's legalization measure has seen a slow crawl towards a finish line that has been repeatedly pushed back since a Supreme Court ruling that banning marijuana was unconstitutional became legally binding in 2018, and legislators were required to develop legislation. Since then, the Supreme Court has repeatedly made deadlines for the legislation to be drafted and voted on by the Lower House of Congress and the Senate, which continually got postponed as the two bodies and the legislators of the bill ping ponged versions of the law back and forth through various committees.
Mexico very nearly passed the law in December 2020 prior to the most recent Supreme Court deadline. The Senate passed a version of the law that was then sent to the Lower House of Congress to be voted on, but congress claimed that they didn't have sufficient time to review the law and the Supreme Court once again allowed the deadline to be pushed back to the end of the next session of congress: April 30.
After the passing of the law by the Lower House of Congress, the Senate is expected to review and vote on the alterations in the legislation. Then it only requires the executive branch signing of the law before April 30. Although López Obrador said in the past that he will not oppose the law, many activists are still waiting with bated breath to fire up their victory joints until legalization is official.