Mexico Senate on Track to Endorse Recreational Cannabis by December

Olga Sánchez Cordero, president of the Mexico Senate, expects rapid approval of recreational reform just south of the Rio Grande.
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The discussion about cannabis reform, generally, if not of the recreational kind, has been bubbling just south of the Rio Grande since 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of four individuals who had cultivated their own cannabis for personal use. The court was rather unambiguous about the same, literally ruling that cannabis prohibition violated the human right of free expression of a person’s personality.

That said, the legislative path to reform so far, has been rocky.

In June 2017, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a bill authorizing medical use. 

However, the Supreme Court was not done (and clearly believed that this law did not go far enough). On October 31, 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the access to cannabis was a right, literally, of personhood and that cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional. 

Since then, forward enshrining of the decision into law has hit not only repeated ball drops but COVID. The court has also issued legal extensions to the lagging legislature, but the writing is on the wall. This year, in late June, the court spoke up yet again, striking down the cannabis law that had so far been passed and effectively decriminalizing recreational use. There can be no more delay. 

As a result, the president of the Mexican Senate, Olga Sánchez Cordero, believes that recreational reform will be finally passed into law as of December 2021.

It is not like they have much choice. But the fact that such a senior politician, and a woman, at that, is now making public statements about the same, is significant in Mexico.

Not to mention of course, just north of Mexico’s most famous, if not fortuitously placed river.

What Could Recreational Reform North and South of the U.S. Do Domestically?

One of the reasons that recreational cannabis in Mexico is so strategically interesting, of course, is that it will sandwich the U.S. between two neighbors who have proceeded on adult-use. 

This will not be a deciding factor in pushing the issue domestically, but it will undoubtedly increase the volume of the voices now demanding reform in the U.S.

Beyond encouraging federal reform, at least of the medical kind, however, Mexican cannabis presents an even more compelling (if potentially threatening) spectre for the first time. Namely, import of cannabis grown in the Mexican recreational market but bound for the U.S.

It’s not like other agricultural produce has not gone this route before. Not to mention “illicit” drugs of every kind, including, of course, cannabis.

Ironically, particularly given the U.S.’s influence in Mexico, especially during the Drug War, it is going to be Mexico that is going to show the U.S. the way.

One thing is for sure. As of this December, 100 years of prohibitionist policy are disappearing.

What Next?

Those expecting Mexico to suddenly turn into a Club Med cannabis experience may have some of their expectations broken. The new law will not establish a separate agency to oversee and regulate the nascent industry, but rather an existing one—the National Commission Against Addictions. Adults over the age of 18 will be allowed to cultivate up to six plants for personal use and possess up to 28 grams (about an ounce) of flower.

Penalties for unauthorized possession (people under 18 years of age), however, are going to increase, mainly to prevent forest land from being converted into cannabis cultivation areas, and to force regulators to create coordinated campaigns against problematic cannabis use, including by minors.

Not everyone is happy with the now pending passage of a very overdue piece of legislation. Advocates had hoped to include language better addressing priority license authorization for marginalized communities. While the bill does prioritize the same, it does not set aside a specific percentage of licenses for the same. 

Advocates had also encouraged lawmakers to remove the strictest penalties for violating the law, calling them counterproductive.

Nothing, of course, is ever perfect.

That said, there is clearly a national shift in mood towards a recreational future. The Supreme Court of the land has now ruled twice that full reform is an inevitability. And as the political winds have changed, Senators have even been publicly gifted both joints and plants over the past several years. 

It certainly sounds a great deal different than the current debate just north of the border.

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