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Mexico ready to be largest legal cannabis market in the world

11 Nov 2020

It's the time that legal marijuana advocates have been waiting for here: Mexican lawmakers, working under a court order, have until mid-December to finalize regulations that will make the country the largest legal cannabis market in the world. 

For a long time, advocates have argued that legalization would dent the black market, allow safe, regulated consumption, create jobs, and reduce crime. 

But rather than counting down the days with excitement, they are carrying out an 11th-hour campaign to change legislation that they say would favor big corporations over small enterprises and family-owned farms, while doing nothing to address the problems at the root of the illegal drug trade in the country.

"Julio Salazar, a senior lawyer and legalization advocate for the Mexico United Against Crime nonprofit group, said," The fact is that we're only a few weeks away from the vote and we don't know what's going to happen. "I'm not sure if Congress' initiative makes it different. It makes the rich a cannabis market and continues to use criminal law to perpetuate a drug war that has affected the poorest people with the least possibilities." 

The proposal would allow the cultivation and selling to the public of marijuana by private companies. But it would limit the number of plants that could be owned by an individual to six and require consumers to register for a government license, a measure that advocates say could discourage legal usage and leave customers more likely to stay in the illegal market. 

Providing seed-to-sale product tracing, similar to the system used in California but likely to be much more difficult in rural Mexico, would also require commercial sellers.

Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader of Morena's ruling party, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has said lawmakers had considered several international legalization models. Elements from Uruguay, Canada, and some U.S. states are borrowed from the present proposal. 

Advocates fear the legislation will cut Mexican-owned businesses out of a lucrative new market if approved as written while doing little to loosen the grip of organized crime on the drug trade. 

"We want a legal framework that can push some of these players from the illegal market into a legal one," said Zara Snapp, co-founder of a drug policy research, and advocacy group based in Mexico City, the RIA Institute. "To undercut the illegal market for customers, the purchase price must be low enough. ... You also have to make sure that there are enough entry points for (growers) to move over." 

If it is possible to draw 30 percent of growers into the legal market, she said, "that's 30 percent paying taxes and out of the shadows, where it was zero percent before."

Neither Monreal nor the committee of the Senate that oversees the legislation replied to requests for comment. Monreal has told reporters that no bill would address the demands of advocates perfectly, but it is expected that ending prohibition would improve Mexico's economy and allow small farmers a path out of the cartels. 

Monreal told Reuters this year, "The most important thing for Mexico and its legislators is that they dare to knock down this decades-old taboo." The deadline is Dec. 15 for a vote. 

Marijuana has long been the butt of jokes and stereotypes in Mexico. Snapp hopes that stigma can be overcome by the country. 

"There was this Dutch company selling Mexico Sativa seeds the first time I went to a weed expo, and it was crazy to me that there was no way for it to be our intellectual property," she said. "I hope that we can begin to see a shift where Mexico can be proud of this." 

In the 16th century, Spanish colonists brought hemp into the country for use as a building material. By the 20th century, in Mexico, marijuana was banned and the lucrative product moved underground. The cultivation of marijuana, much of it for export to the United States, founded the organized crime that continues today in the form of the diversified drug cartels that are now fueling historically high rates of homicide.

A decade ago, though, prohibition has started to soften. In 2009, lawmakers decriminalized small amounts of drug possession; then-President Felipe Calderon, who militarized the fight against cartels, said the measure would allow law enforcement authorities to shift focus from individual users to large-scale drug dealers and smugglers. 

Court rulings loosened regulations even further, leading to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling that the banning of cannabis violated the constitutional rights of Mexicans. 

The flow of trafficking flipped as specialty strains and gourmet cannabis products began to emerge in U.S. states where they were legal: According to the U.S., weed produced in the western United States was smuggled south across the border to consumers willing to pay a premium Administration for drug regulation. 

In the shadow of the Mexican Senate today, a lush marijuana field containing hundreds of plants is growing. The protest garden, cultivated and tended by cannabis activists, reeks of reefer. It provides advocates with a place to light up just steps from where lawmakers will decide if they should be allowed to do so freely.

Despite the steady march toward legalization, Mexico's drug perceptions remain fairly conservative. Polls indicate that as many as 60 percent of Mexicans believe that marijuana should remain illegal, a finding is expected to be taken into account by lawmakers. 

"Right now, public opinion is important because it affects the way politicians think," Snapp said. "what politicians need to remember is that we are not at this point because of public opinion-we are here because on several occasions the Supreme Court ruled that any Mexicans have the right to free cannabis use and the inhibition of personal use infringes that right."

Salazar said the advocates want a solution from Mexico.

The legislation being applied has taken the worst parts of all the various models, "Salazar added." "They took the excessive consumer registry from Uruguay. They included the United States traceability requirement, which makes sense over there because regulation is local, but not where it would be federal in Mexico. And we also copied the lack of reparations to support indigenous communities or those most affected by the drug war." 

Many of the farmers in Mexico live in rural areas, advocates point out, without reliable internet access and other technologies that would be required to comply with some of the proposed regulations, such as tracking the plant from seed to sale. 

"John Walsh, director of drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America, said," The devil is really in the details of these laws. No one-size-fits-all legalization solution exists.  

Is this going to be an inclusive market for Mexico, shaped by the realities of the country? Or is it continuing to be a market under the control of well-heeled, well-financed, well-connected companies?

 

Source: Nation Thailand