Mexican Lower House Passes Bill to Create Legal Marijuana Market

Mexico’s lower house voted Wednesday to liberalize the nation’s marijuana laws in a bid to create the world’s biggest legal market for the substance and cut drug cartel profits.

Lawmakers now need to reconcile the bill with one already passed by the senate before it can be signed into law by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. They will still debate proposed changes to specific articles before the bill is finalized.

The initiative passed the chamber handily in general terms, with 316 lawmakers voting in favor, 129 opposing and 23 abstaining.

The bill would allow for the research, production, and sale of marijuana products by businesses that are granted licenses, as well as limited home-growing for personal use and cultivation of as many as fifty plants in non-profit associations.

Members of the ruling Morena party, which has backed the bill, said it could create a new legal industry for Mexico and formalize thousands of farmers who currently grow the crop for cartels. With a population of more than 120 million people, Mexico would be the largest country to legalize the sale of the drug.

Mexico is home to some of the world’s most powerful drug cartels, who supply cocaine, marijuana and fentanyl to the U.S. Violence related in part to the country’s drug war has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people over the last 15 years. Confiscation of marijuana along the U.S.-Mexico border indicate exports have dropped in recent years, but lawmakers say the bill would still cut into illegal sales.

Some pro-legalization campaigners oppose the bill, since possession of more than 28 grams of marijuana would be an offense and possession of higher quantities could result in prison sentences. Lisa Sanchez, executive director of Mexico United Against Crime, a non-profit involved in a series of Supreme Court cases that led to the congressional vote, said her organization will mount a legal challenge to the bill.

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