Mexico slowly advances adult-use cannabis law – setting up key vote next week

Image of Palacio de Bellas Artes

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. (Photo by Alfredo Pascual)

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A group of Mexican legislators met virtually on Friday to discuss the latest version of a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis and, in doing so, comply with a Supreme Court mandate to pass a law by the middle of next month.

The legislators already are way behind schedule, but steps were taken Friday to get the legalization process back on track with an important vote as soon as next week.

The lawmakers were originally given an October 2019 deadline, but after the Senate failed to reach a consensus, the Supreme Court extended the deadline to the end of April 2020.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the April 2020 deadline was extended again until Dec. 15, 2020.

On Friday, three Senate commissions, acting together in a virtual session, vowed to finalize the following initiatives on Nov. 18:
  1. Revoke a decision they made last March when they approved in general terms a marijuana legalization bill.
  2. Approve a new bill, a modified version of the March document, bringing the Latin American country one step closer to the current goal of legalization before Dec. 15.

Because of the virtual nature of Friday’s meeting, legislators had only the option to state how they would vote.

The new version of the bill still must overcome several hurdles, such as:

  1. Approval by the Senate commissions when they meet in person on Wednesday.
  2. Approval by the full Senate, which might not happen next week.
  3. Approval by the lower legislative chamber.
  4. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signing the bill into law, assuming he has no objections.

The legislation could see further modifications and face yet unforeseen hurdles along the way.

After the law is approved, and before any sales can take place, a cannabis agency must be established and secondary rules written.

Anyone expecting revenue opportunities in the near term should not get their hopes up.

Delays in Mexico’s legislative process have been common.

The new version of the bill – expected to be approved by Senate commissions on Wednesday – has significant differences from the version approved in March.

The biggest change is that medical cannabis is not within the scope of the new draft, which regulates only recreational marijuana and industrial hemp.

Mexico approved medical cannabis in mid-2017 with a reform of its health and criminal law.

But that law was never properly implemented. Since patients could not access medical cannabis products, businesses effectively had no business opportunities.

The exclusion of medical cannabis from the current bill’s scope suggests secondary rules will be needed soon to regulate the 2017 law amendments.

The recreational bill has some other notable exclusions: Food and beverages infused with cannabis derivatives – including CBD – are not considered in the current bill.

Like the March version, the proposed law has a strong emphasis on sustainability.

For business licenses, the draft law provides preference for vulnerable or marginalized communities.

Business opportunities would be limited by vertical and horizontal integration restrictions as well as limits on foreign ownership of licensees.

Industrial use would be defined as nonmedical uses of cannabis with less than 1% THC.

Alfredo Pascual can be reached at