Mexico is poised to legalize marijuana

Homegrown indoor pot plants and leaves. (PHOTO: Thinkstock)

MEXICO CITY – It’s the moment for which advocates of legal marijuana here have been waiting: Mexican lawmakers, working under a court order, have until mid-December to finalize rules that will make the country the world’s largest market for legal pot.

Advocates have long argued that legalization would put a dent in the black market, allow for safe, regulated consumption, create jobs and cut down on crime.

But rather than counting down the days with glee, they’re waging an 11th-hour campaign to change legislation that they say would favor large corporations over small businesses and family-owned farms, while doing little to address the issues at the root of the country’s illegal drug trade.

“The truth is we’re just a few weeks away from the vote and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Julio Salazar, a senior lawyer and legalization advocate with the nonprofit group Mexico United Against Crime. “I’m not sure if the initiative being pushed by Congress actually makes things better. It makes a cannabis market for the rich and continues to use criminal law to perpetuate a drug war that has damaged the poorest people with the least opportunities.”

The proposal would allow private companies to cultivate and sell marijuana to the public. But it would limit the number of plants an individual could own to six, and require consumers to register for a government license – a step that advocates say could discourage legal use and leave customers likelier to stay in the illegal market.

It would also require commercial sellers to provide seed-to-sale product tracing, akin to the system used in California, but likely to be far more difficult in rural Mexico.

Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ruling Morena party, has said lawmakers considered a number of international models for legalization. The current proposal borrows elements from Uruguay, Canada and some U.S. states.

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

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

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