The party of Mexico’s president-elect has submitted legislation to legalize the possession, public use, growth and sale of marijuana in what would be a major change to the country’s narcotics strategy.
Senator Olga Sánchez Cordero – who has been picked as interior secretary by president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador – said prohibition has fed violence and poverty, criticizing a 12-year crackdown on drug gangs that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
“Today, the nation has taken the decision to change,” she told senators. “We don’t want more deaths. It will be a major contribution to bringing peace to our beloved country.”
If the bill passes, Mexico would join Canada, Uruguay and a number of US states that permit recreational use of the drug and allow its commercialization.
Mexico, which banned marijuana in the early 20th century, is still a major supplier of illicit weed to the United States. It has been racked by a decade of conflict between cartels over supply routes for heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs to its northern neighbor.
Sánchez’s bill also would allow every Mexican to grow up to 20 marijuana plants on private property and produce up to 17 ounces (480 grams) a year. Edible marijuana products would be prohibited.
In 2016, Mexico’s government began granting permits for some patients to import medicinal marijuana products. It has also decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and issued several permits for people to cultivate and possess pot for personal use.
López Obrador, who takes office 1 December, has promised major changes to Mexico’s approach to the war on drugs, suggesting a negotiated peace and amnesty for people involved in the narcotics trade.
In the 26-page bill posted on the Congress website, Sánchez wrote that Mexico’s cannabis prohibition has contributed to crime and violence, adding that in the 12 years since Mexico launched a war on cartels, 235,000 people have been killed.
“The policy of prohibition arises from the false assumption that the problem of drugs should be tackled from a penal focus,” wrote Sánchez, a former supreme court magistrate.
“The objective can’t be to eradicate the consumption of a substance that’s as prevalent as cannabis,” she added.
Although the coalition led by the president-elect’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party has a majority in both houses, it includes a conservative party that has in the past opposed some socially progressive policies, meaning the bill may face hurdles.
Legislation in Mexico’s two-house Congress often moves slowly, and after being submitted, the bill would have to pass committees before reaching a vote.
The bill would permit companies to grow and commercialize marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate plants for private use, as long as they register in an anonymous government listing and produce no more than 480 grams of marijuana a year.
Smoking pot in public places would also be permitted.
Mexico’s supreme court last week ruled that an absolute ban on recreational use of marijuana was unconstitutional, effectively leaving it to lawmakers to regulate consumption of the drug.
Support for legalization has strengthened in Mexico in recent years as violence soars.
Since 2006, Mexico has used military might to fight drug gangs, which have splintered into smaller groups battling over trafficking routes and territory.
The country saw more than 31,000 murders last year, the highest total since modern records began, according to government data.