On Monday, the Mexican Senate’s Health Commission hosted a forum, in which several officials and policy experts discussed the country’s impending regulation of cannabis from a public health perspective—without losing sight of social justice concerns.
The forum in the Senate was one of more to come, as Mexican lawmakers are currently weighing several initiatives for regulating cannabis, including one presented by the Interior Minister. The event, open to all stakeholders, started with words from Senator Ricardo Monreal Ávila, who heads the Senate’s Policy Coordination Board. Like all subsequent speakers, he underscored the importance of respecting Mexican citizens’ constitutional right to “free development of personality.” He also spoke at length about the possibility of undermining organized crime.
“This is about snatching the productive [and] distributive process [from the hands of narcotraffickers],” Monreal Ávila said, a process “currently carried out in an irremediably violent, corrupt environment.” Consumers, he added, are exposed to serious risks, including “consuming adulterated substances, and the possibility of being deprived of their liberty.”
The Senator also pointed to the importance of protecting the environment and minors. “But,” Monreal Ávila added, referencing youth use, “we’re also convinced that it will not stimulate it.” He pointed to Portugal, Holland, Canada, Uruguay, and the United States — countries that have loosened their cannabis laws or fully legalized — and said these countries’ experiences indicate that “greater access to a drug once deemed illegal does not necessarily increase consumption.”
Raúl Martín del Campo, a member of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which governs the implementation of the United Nations drug conventions, then gave a global perspective: “Something that is really important for me to be understood is this: the international drug control conventions never say that countries have to opt for wars against narcotrafficking, they never say that. What the conventions say is that countries have to push for these substances to be duly controlled . . . with the most intelligence and least harm to society.”
Del Campo also cautioned against regulatory models that allow for private commercialization of cannabis. The problem, he said, is that “there is going to be an industry interested in increasing its profits and, therefore, that industry will find a way to influence our decisions,” just like with tobacco and alcohol.
“While they say that their marketing is not geared towards those who are underage,” he added, “each time we find that they are. In fact, the NGOs that devote themselves to health concerns surrounding alcohol and tobacco have asked that we please not regulate marijuana the way alcohol and tobacco are being regulated.”
In terms of the potential for international drug conventions to loosen their restrictions on cannabis, del Campo isn’t optimistic, and said that “because there is not a consensus, it will be hard to modify the conventions.”
“Believe me,” he said, “no one more than the members of the INCB—hope they don’t scold me for saying this—no one more than the members of the INCB would like to for the conventions to become more flexible.”
“What I see is that the international community,” he added, has “condemnation for countries that have opted for a complete legalization of marijuana . . . with respect to how that weakens the system of international oversight.”
Del Campo also cast doubt as to whether regulating cannabis will curb violence linked to organized crime. During the forum, he pointed to studies that indicate that “only between 15 and 24 percent of what [cartels] earn comes from marijuana shipped to the United States, and only four percent of what they earn is from the marijuana they distribute in Mexico.” And so, he concluded, “we really wouldn’t be hitting cartels with this type of measure.”
Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero opened her statement by linking prohibition to increased violence in Mexico, along with the criminalization of vulnerable people. Pointing to the prevalence of cannabis consumption worldwide and recent increased use in Mexico, she also argued that this calls for lawmakers to craft policy that is not aimed at eradicating consumption, but that revolves around consumers’ health and right to decide what to do with their bodies.
The Interior Minister also shared that she and other members of the new administration traveled to Canada last year, where officials put together a “highly rigorous and very comprehensive” presentation on how they regulated non-medical cannabis consumption and sales.
The jurisprudence recently issued by Mexico’s Supreme Court, she added, which confirms that the prohibitionist model is unconstitutional, calls for lawmakers to pick up speed. For this reason, said Sánchez Cordero, Congress also cannot limit its new cannabis policy to merely modifying the country’s General Health Law and Federal Penal Code to decriminalize consumption, but must fully regulate the entire chain.