A modest crowd advocating legal marijuana took to the streets of Mérida in 2018. File photo

Lawmakers under court order have until mid-December to finalize rules that will make Mexico the world’s largest market for legal marijuana.

Advocates for legalization say that it will shrink the black market, allow for safe consumption, create jobs and reduce crime.

But they’re waging an 11th-hour campaign to change legislation that they say would favor large corporations over small businesses and family-owned farms. Laws, as they appear so far in draft form, do little to address the issues at the root of the country’s illegal drug trade, pro-pot advocates say.

The proposal allows 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. That alone would discourage legal use and leave customers likelier to stay in the illegal market, advocates believe.

The law so far also would require commercial sellers to provide seed-to-sale product tracing, like California’s system, but less viable 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.

“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.”

If 30% of growers can be drawn into the legal market, she said, “that’s 30% that are paying taxes and out of the shadows, when before it was zero percent.”

Monreal has said that no bill would be perfect, but ending prohibition is expected to buoy Mexico’s economy and allow small farmers a path out from under the cartels.

Hemp was brought to the country by Spanish colonists in the 16th century for use as a building material. By the 20th century, marijuana was banned and went underground. Today, marijuana is bankrolled by organized crime and much of it is exported to the United States.

Prohibition began to soften in 2019 when lawmakers decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug. Then-President Felipe Calderon, who militarized the fight against the cartels, said the measure would allow law enforcement to shift focus from individual users to large-scale drug dealers and smugglers.

By 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that banning cannabis violated Mexicans’ constitutional rights.

With information from the Washington Post.

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