Hector Gomes, Latin America and Caribbean Analyst
March 11th, 2021
With a population close to 130 million people which is expected to hit 150 million in 2030, the North American and Latin American country is among the top 15 economies worldwide, and member of the Pacific Alliance and the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA), Mexico is perceived as as liaison between the Anglo-American and the Latin American societies, be it for the growing influence of Mexico in the United States and the historical, at times abusive, influence of the United States in the Mexican society and government.
That influence is closely related to cannabis, as last year Mexico celebrated its 100th prohibition anniversary, a prohibition that, in part, originated in the US prohibition of cannabis and hemp, a policy heavily influenced by racist and conservative worldviews, leading to a war on drugs that had and has still severe consequences in the country.
This prohibition started to fade away in Mexico in 2018, with the Supreme Court ruling considering a ban in cannabis use against the national constitution and further in December 2018 with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexican president, often referred to as AMLO, a supporter of the medical cannabis legislation in his country. In 2019, when Senator Julio Menchaca Salazar, of the government’s ruling MORENA party, introduced a bill to legalise cannabis, and on march 2020, three Senate commissions in Mexico, acting together, passed legislation to legalise all forms of cannabis, as explained in the Latin America and Caribbean Cannabis Report.
As 2020 unfolded, heavily influenced by the COVID-19, further developments in the Mexican cannabis legislation were postponed, as the country faced the pandemic and the legislative bodies adapted to online sessions. Despite timit, some progress was made as discussions in the Mexican legislative bodies working groups advanced, ending up with the vote held yesterday that approved the cannabis legislation in the Mexican congress, with 316 votes in favour and 127 against, showing a wide margin towards legalisation.
The law allows adults, over 18 years, to smoke cannabis and carry up to 28 grams, purchased in licenced stores, and citizens, with a permit, to grow up to six plants as well, while farmers will be able to have large cultivations, given priority to indigenous groups and small farmers in an aim for social equity. The law is not free of criticism, for its lack of THC threshold, as some see it as more beneficial to large businesses, due to allowing for vertical integration, and an insufficient measure against the rising cartel violence, whose profits from illegal cannabis are a small fraction of its large drug income source.
The law is expected now to go back to the senate, where having a MORENA, the ruling party, majority, it is expected to be approved, and then sent to Mexico’s president, AMLO, for final approval. It is still a timid progress in terms of drug decriminalisation, but it is surely a big step towards transforming Mexico, once again, into the largest adult cannabis user worldwide, and it opens the door for future discussions that can advance peace, progress and equity in the Mexican society.
Local Expert Interview
Jorge Rubio Escalona, Nabbis Group Co-Founder
What are the main changes to the Mexican legislation that are being voted?
One of the most important aspects is that the National Commission Against Addictions will have the mandate of the regulation of the industry, instead of the COFEPRIS. The Ministry of Agriculture will regulate seeds, hemp and growth planning.
The following regulations are now in place:
- The National Seed Agency will be the agency for seeds and traceability regulation.
- The law establishes four purposes: personal grow, collective grow, retail, research, and hemp.
- Collective grow from 2 to 20 members: Cannabis Associations with a limit of 50 plants (each member 4 plants, not for sale)
- Specific rules in labelling and branding for cannabis products and packaging will be in recyclable items.
- Licenses to grow, produce, manufacture, and commercialise hemp by the Ministry of Agriculture.
- 6 different licenses: vertical integration, production, distribution, retail, transformation (extraction) and research
- The Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture will define the growing zone indoor or outdoor.
- The Competence Commission will define possible concentrations of the market to deny or grant licenses.
- Prohibition for marketing, sponsorship, and publicity
- No synthetic cannabinoids and vape-smoke concentrations, with the exception for medical use.
- No online selling, vending machines, mail of phone
When can we expect new regulations following the law and its implementation?
The next step is to send the Law to the Senate Chamber; they will accept the changes done in the Deputies Chamber and send the Law to the Presidential Office to wait to be signed and publication in the National Official Gazette. After that, the most important process is the creation of the Bylaw which is the implementation details and deadlines. They expect to start the permits and licenses process till 2022.
How will this affect the Mexican cannabis illicit market?
The huge and enormous mistake by policymakers was not to wait to create a robust medicinal and hemp industry and after some years make a transition to the recreational market, that happened because of the pressure of activists, the lack of knowledge of the cannabis industry and some international speculation.
The illicit market will grow more than ever, and it will be a big competition for retailers and growers. I think the illegal market will focus on concentrates and edibles. Legalisation in Mexico can be easily affected by corruption and crime. If the medical access for quality and pharma-grade products is delayed by bureaucracy you will affect the medical access to pharmacies and all the CBD will be in the illegal marketplace as today with over price, no test, wrong labelling selling hemp seed oil as CBD. Mexico needs the best cannabis-derived products for patients and to start physicians’ prescriptions. So, I expect two illegal markets for a while.
From a historic, cultural and social perspective, how is this new regulation being perceived by the Mexican main political forces today?
Most of the legislative interventions focused on serious concerns for harm reduction for youth and children. Some political groups voted against the Law to protect young people for cannabis consumption. Another concern was the mandate to the National Addictions Prevention Commission, which is not a regulatory body, with no experience in granting licenses, budget and administrative people to regulate and enforce.
Mexican society has a huge stigma with cannabis because it was related to drug cartels and crime. The lack of education makes families and parents afraid of cannabis consumption, so it will be a challenge to make information campaigns about the plant. The good news is to decriminalise some possession and consumption.