Efforts to legalize marijuana in Mexico edged forward this week as draft legislation cleared three key committees in the Senate.

A Supreme Court mandate had given lawmakers a deadline of Oct. 30, 2019 to legalize marijuana after declaring a ban to be unconstitutional. The government was handed a six-month extension after failing to agree a consensus, so it now has until April 30, 2020 to agree on the shape of its new legal sector.

This week the draft bill gained approval from the Senate committees of Justice, Health, Public Safety and Legislative Studies. The combined committees voted 26-7 in favour of the draft legislation.

It covers recreational, medicinal, and industrial cannabis. The bill would permit Mexicans aged 18 and older to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. They would be able to grow up to 20 plants for recreational use, and more for medicinal use.

It would also legalize commercial cannabis sales. A tax of 12% would be imposed, and some of that revenue would go towards substance abuse programs. The bill would also create a Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis to oversee licensing and regulation.

The measure will now be debated and voted on next week in the plenary session of the Senate. If it gains approval, it would need to be ratified by the Chamber of Deputies and then enacted by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO).

AMLO campaigned on a pledge to reform cannabis laws as part of a “hugs, not gunfire” policy. However, he has recently suggested that he is only in favour of medical marijuana legalization and not recreational use.

In 2018, Mexico’s highest court ruled in favour of two complainants who said a ban marijuana impinged upon their fundamental right to personal development. That meant the Supreme Court had made five rulings on this issue and therefore passed the threshold needed to create jurisprudence, setting a precedent that all Mexican courts must now follow.

The Federal Commission for the Protection against Health Risks was ordered to allow the complainants in these cases to use cannabis for recreational purposes and all other courts must make identical rulings, meaning marijuana is essentially legalized in the country. However, lawmakers still need to thrash a framework for legal use in the country, and the debate is likely to rumble on in the weeks ahead.

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