Mexico is attempting to legalize hashish use, a humble transfer to de-escalate the drug warfare

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The bill is now in the Senate, where it is likely to be passed, as Mexican senators previously voted to legalize cannabis.

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Luis Gomez Romero • • The conversation FILE: A woman smokes marijuana during a demonstration outside the Mexican Senate building in Mexico City on September 28, 2016. FILE: A woman smokes marijuana during a demonstration outside the Mexican Senate building in Mexico City on September 28, 2016. Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP via Getty Images

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The Mexican lower house of Congress passed a bill in March to legalize recreational cannabis use. The bill is now in the Senate, where it is likely to be passed, as Mexican senators previously voted to legalize cannabis.

In this case, Mexico, along with Uruguay and Canada, will allow people to use cannabis for recreational purposes, albeit in a more limited manner.

Mexico’s bill would not fully legalize cannabis. it would increase the country’s existing threshold for non-criminal personal possession from 5 grams to 28 grams. Possession of 29 to 200 grams of cannabis would result in a fine. After that, a prison would still be possible.

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Selling cannabis will still be a crime, which means that farmers in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, or Michoacán who earn a small chunk of cannabis cultivation can still end up in jail.

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As humble as marijuana is, legalization would be a symbolic milestone for Mexico, a country embroiled in an irreconcilable drug war.

Modest progress

According to a 2016 study by the Mexican Senate, Mexican cartels with cannabis sales in the United States accounted for up to $ 2 trillion – between 15% and 26% of their total income. However, as more and more US states legalize cannabis – most recently New York – the importance of the drug to cartels has declined dramatically.

However, the criminalization of cannabis is keeping the Mexican penitentiary system bloated. In 2018, 37,701 adults and 3,072 young people were accused of “narcomenudeo” – low-level drug trafficking. Of the defendants, 60% of adults and 94% of teenagers were arrested with 5 to 100 grams of cannabis – not caught selling.

Even under current Mexican law, these people should not have been arrested unless they had committed other crimes or behaved violently.

The legalization law should put an end to this type of arrest for good. However, it contains several provisions that undermine the intended effects of protecting vulnerable consumers and smallholders, as Congressmen Laura Rojas and Lucía Riojas said when criticizing the new bill.

For example, it allows individuals to grow cannabis for their own consumption – up to six plants per adult or eight per household. However, producers must obtain approval from the National Search Council.

Riojas, which made headlines in 2019 when it offered Mexico’s new interior minister a rolled joint, said the rule perpetuated consumer social stigma.

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The bill also gives officials the power to enter the residence of a cannabis producer without an arrest warrant to verify compliance with the law. This can result in some people currently illegally growing cannabis at home not registering and preferring their clandestine rest to invasive home inspections.

SMART litigation

Such regulations have softened the celebrations of activists and scientists who have campaigned vigorously for years to end the cannabis ban in Mexico on human rights grounds.

In 2013, four board members of the nonprofit drug policy Mexico United Against Crime challenged the ban on cannabis in the Mexican Supreme Court. Plaintiffs alleged that Mexico’s cannabis ban violated their constitutionally guaranteed rights, including the right to make decisions about their personal health.

They filed the so-called “amparo” – a Mexican legal mechanism that allows citizens to defend their own constitutional rights – arguing in court that adults should be able to grow marijuana at home and use it appropriately.

In 2015, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling that Mexico’s total ban on cannabis was unconstitutional. Justice Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea noted in this landmark decision that the Mexican Constitution “does not impose an ideal of human excellence” but “allows each individual to choose his or her own life plan … as long as it does not affect others”.

Since the outcome of an Amparo lawsuit applies only to the petitioner, no one but the handful of SMART members could grow marijuana at home or have over 5 grams of weed. However, the decision resulted in an increase in similar Amparo cases and the courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of the petitioners.

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Finally, in 2018, the Supreme Court mandated Congress to end the “unconstitutional” ban on cannabis.

Given the complexity of the matter and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court has granted Congress several extensions to meet this mandate. However, the court’s final deadline is April 30th. This means that Mexico’s cannabis ban will be lifted even on that day if the new regulatory law has not come into force.

Small transformation

The Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador presented the cannabis law as a victory for his political party Morena.

But López Obrador’s views on cannabis were ambiguous and unpredictable. Throughout his long political career, he has made many expressions of willingness to “debate” legalization, but never explicitly committed to it.

López Obrador ran for president in 2018 as a progressive candidate who would “transform” and “pacify” Mexico, among other things by rethinking its drug policy. But it wasn’t until February 2020 that he declared he would only support medical cannabis, not leisure.

López Obrador also largely continued the drug war of his predecessors. In 2006, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón used the military to suppress drug trafficking. Unbridled violence ensued as soldiers fought the cartels and increasingly every citizen was perceived as a threat – including people who use drugs.

López Obrador recently extended the use of the armed forces as law enforcement agencies until 2024.

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In the past 15 years, drug cartels and organized crime have killed an estimated 150,000 people in Mexico, accounting for roughly half of all murders in Mexico during that time. Another 73,000 people have disappeared.

Ultimately, that bloody story led to the legalization of cannabis in Mexico – a small but significant step in de-escalating the war on drugs.

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Luis Gómez Romero, Lecturer in Human Rights, Constitutional Law and Legal Theory, Wollongong University.

This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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