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A bill to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana in Mexico is being circulated among senators, and a senior lawmaker says it is slated to vote on the proposal before December 15.

Although the law has not yet been officially introduced, the draft measures largely reflect an earlier version that the Senate passed with some revisions late last year.

Senate majority leader Ricardo Monreal Avila of the ruling MORENA party has pushed for reform, recently saying that there is consensus among leading lawmakers to prioritize cannabis regulation legislation.

The Mexican Supreme Court declared almost three years ago that the ban on personal possession and cultivation of cannabis in the country was unconstitutional. Legislators were then required to pass the policy change, but have not since been able to reach consensus on legislation to regulate a marijuana program.

At the request of the legislature, the court agreed to extend its deadline for Congress to formally end the ban on several occasions. But due to repeated failed attempts to meet these deadlines, the judges themselves finally voted in June to end the criminalization.

Monreal previously said that the conditions are in place for lawmakers to actually pass a law legalizing marijuana during the new session after several failed attempts in recent years.

The bill currently in circulation allows adults 18 and older to buy and own up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use.

Members of the Senate’s health and justice committees were tapped into drafting a cannabis law.

The text of the measure states that the purpose of the reform is to “promote public health, human rights and sustainable development” and “improve the living conditions of the people who live in the United Mexican States”.

It would also “prevent and combat the consequences of problematic use of psychoactive cannabis and help reduce drug-related crime, promote peace, security and the well-being of individuals and communities”.

Regulators would be tasked with developing separate rules regulating cannabis for adult use, research, and industrial production.

The bill would set up a Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, which would be a decentralized body under the Ministry of Health. It would also be responsible for issuing licenses, overseeing the program, and promoting public awareness campaigns related to marijuana.

Retail licenses would have to be issued within 18 months of the law coming into effect.

In order to “offset the damage caused by the ban,” the draft law states that at least 40 percent of marijuana cultivation licenses must go to communities hardest hit by cannabis crime for at least the first five years of implementation. According to this, at least 20 percent of the licenses would have to be reserved for equity applicants.

After the Supreme Court independently invalidated the ban earlier this year, proponents said the decision underscores the need for lawmakers to swiftly pass a measure to implement a comprehensive system of legal and regulated sales. They want to ensure that a market is created that is fair, removes the damage caused by the criminalization of certain communities, and promotes personal freedom.

Proponents are happy that the Senate leadership is taking seriously the need for regulation and adult access to cannabis, but they have identified some regulations as problematic.

For example, possession of more than 200 grams of marijuana can still result in prison terms.

Senate President Olga Sánchez Cordero, who previously worked at cabinet level in the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, recently said that “there is no longer any room for prohibitionist politics”. And she also says that U.S. influence is responsible for the failed marijuana criminalization laws in her country.

The Senate passed a law to legalize it late last year, and then the House of Representatives made changes, passed them in March, and sent them back to the original House. Some Senate committees then picked up and approved the amended measure, but leaders quickly began to signal that certain revisions made the proposal unusable.

After the House of Representatives previously approved the Senate’s legalization bill, senators said the revised proposal was critically contradicting internally – on provisions on legal possession restrictions, the definition of hemp, and other issues – and lawmakers themselves could be prosecuted if it occurred in effect as it was designed.

But Monreal said in April that if the court issued a declaration of unconstitutionality before approving a measure to regulate cannabis, it would create “chaos”.

The top senator also spoke about how important it is for lawmakers to take their time to shape good policies and not rush to promote the interests of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries in the midst of lobbying.

“We mustn’t allow ourselves to be suppressed by interests,” he said at the time. “The Senate must act with great caution on this matter.”

Senator Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar of the MORENA party said in April that it is “important right now to legislate in the terms presented to us” and then consider additional revisions of cannabis laws through subsequent bills.

That is the position that many advocates of legalization have taken as well, calling on lawmakers to pass an imperfect law immediately and then work to fix it later.

The Mexican president said in December that a vote on a legalization law had been delayed due to minor “errors” in the proposal.

The Legalization Act approved a joint group of Senate committees ahead of the full vote in that chamber last year, with some changes made after members informally examined and debated the proposal during a virtual hearing.

Members of the Senate’s Judiciary, Health and Legislative Studies Committee had also approved an earlier version of legal cannabis legislation last year, but the pandemic delayed consideration of the matter. Senator Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in April that legalizing cannabis could fill state coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the health crisis.

While lawmakers worked to push reform legislation forward, there was a lighthearted attempt to get certain members and activists to focus on the issue. That boost mainly involved planting and giving away marijuana.

Late last year, Sánchez Cordero, then a senior civil servant, received a cannabis plant from the Senator and said she would make it part of her personal garden.

Another lawmaker gave Sánchez Cordero a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019. That joint is now framed and hanging in her office.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last year when Senator Jesusa Rodríguez of the MORENA party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Proponents of drug policy reform have also grown hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on lawmakers to keep their promise to legalize it.

Read below the draft marijuana legalization bill that is being circulated in the Mexican Senate:

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