Side Event: Exploring the regulation of Cannabis markets in Latin America

Organized by Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Elementa DDHH, México Unido Contra la Delincuencia and Washington Office on Latin America

Lisa Sanchez, Mexico United against Crime (MUCD): Will discuss Mexico. Introduce what brought us here, what is happening currently with legislative discussions, and what are characteristics of the last bill that is likely to pass before April 2020. Mexico had made the case for drug policy reform over the past decade in terms of incarceration and high social costs. We have cannabis and poppy growing illicitly in our territory. Creates challenges with growers, access to medicines, existence of organized crime, money laundering, stigma, etc. National discussion began in late 2011/2012. Coincided with escalation in violence that tripled level of homicides form 2008. Peak of 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. First bill tabled on cannabis legalization limited to home growing in 2005. Having 87 bills tabled to federal congress on somehow reforming drug policy, with 80% about enabling some sort of legal access to cannabis, from growing plants at home to having a fully regulated market. MUCD started litigating at the Supreme Court to create some jurisprudence. Created an official obligation from congress – permit from health authority to use cannabis. Judiciary had obligation to issue such a permit, so now we have 2 types of citizens in Mexico – those that get permits and those that don’t which creates legal tension.

Congress did not make it to the deadline. New deadline is April 30. In the meantime, we have a powerful, emotional, and organized movement of patients. Started participating in discussion around 2014/2015. Started litigating access to medicinal cannabis. Started importing medicinal cannabis from other places, like USA. Discussion in public shifted from being against having cannabis regulated. Kids with epilepsy made the general public change their mind. 80% of the population support cannabis for medical purposes, up from 30% ten years ago. Recreational cannabis still faces 60% opposition. Legislation passed on medicinal cannabis, but limited to pharmaceutical derivatives. Required an issuing of a secondary directive that never happened. We have a law in the books but no secondary legislation to implement those changes. Do not know which stakeholders can have or provide access. Discussion advanced to that point, but also discussing recreational as well. At the moment, discussing a bill tabled last year that analyzed 13 other bills that allows for access to all purposes and uses of cannabis for the entire population. Has a couple technical challenges to be solved. Allows for scientific, medical, recreational, and industrial uses of cannabis. Creates a regulatory system from production to use. Licenses for private and semi-private access. Still not clear if the government will participate. Will have to comply with requirements, like not supplying to kids, complying with allocations of land, no single license actor can concentrate a great part of the market, etc. Likely cannot integrate vertically. Remains to be solved in congress. Will create a cannabis institute to oversee functioning of the system. Taken from the Uruguayan model. Do not want to overload the mandate of the health department. Create an institute/board that will be composed of representatives from several ministries and from legislative, senate, and lower house. Oversee functioning of the market, evaluate if it is working, and suggest modifications. Bill is not perfect. Mainly has to do with fact that specific lobbying in congress trying to limit availability for small growers to participate. Will concentrate the number of players to those with capital, know how, and monitoring systems. Imposes requisites that are excessive, namely the seed needs to be legal implying we would have to import such seeds. Problematic given that there is an installed production for cannabis. Second, licensed companies need to have specific markers on plants and follow from seed to production. Over regulating and limiting the possibilities of small growers to participate in the market. No removal of criminal penalties for people. Penal code penalizing everything that has to do with cannabis. Bill is not removing that but also applying administrative sanction framework that can give administrative sanction of $150,000. Fees may not be applied to companies but to individuals that give a joint away on the street. Bill was voted in the senate this week. Committees of the senate approved the bill in general terms. Meet again next week to discuss article by article to see if there are reservations. Then turned for discussion to plenary in the senate. Then go to lower house, with another opportunity to make changes. Only after both sanction the bill, we can see the unconstitutionality problem has been properly solved. Has to happen before April 30. Do not know if the bill will be good or done in time.

Luciana (by Skype):

We are a human rights org in Argentina, last year more than 50 other orgs started a campaign to promote legal regulation of cannabis market. In Argentina the legal framework is:

– drug law associated with personal consumption considered an offence

– ruling from supreme county that was considered unconstitutional

– congress never adopted drug law according to this ruling – in limbo here

Legal regulation of the cannabis market would be first way of adopting framework to constitutional ruling and stopping penalisation. Rule of campaign is to accept this as legal requirement. Wide variety of organisations, from human rights, social sciences, security, education, mental health, feminist, LGBTI and public defence organisations. Buenos Aires – part of campaign from point of view of public offenders. Campaign is based on 5 points of agreement. Combat negative consequences of illicit drug trade.

First point of agreement – need focus on public health, increasing level of visibility and possibility of the state to promote responsible use, reduce the harms in the people that decide to use. People under 18 won’t be able to enter into the market. Second point – how to achieve a reduction in the levels of danger and vulnerability. Many other countries in Argentina – cannabis is most consumed most. Harassment and extortion must be dealt with. No certainty on what they are consuming, and quality of substance being sold. Different circumstances constitution different risks. 3rd point recognises that we do not know enough of the market – require information to set up a wide scale system that can be sufficiently strict in relation to public health regulations. Need for more knowledge to set up legal market. 4th point: important in term of social aspects – protect the availability of seeds. Provide democratic access to cannabis – social component that we believe is key. Medical cannabis bill has been approved by the congress. Cannabis clubs and home growing are a way of ensuring accessibility

5th point refers to non-criminalisation of behaviours associated to use – to apply to all psychoactive substances addressed by the supreme court. Applies to accommodating legal framework to the ruling. This campaign has been launched – we’re currently working on promoting public awareness of this and in the development of law. Some news from government – change of administration last December. Different social changes are pending in the country. Have been publicly addressed by sectors in society. Prohibition of cannabis and damages related to narcotrafico has been part of the public grievances, so that’s in the public agenda at the minute. Minster of security is one of the actors. Very close neighbour to Uruguay. Politicians – pubic opinion etc. Consider regulation of cannabis market – Uruguay post the aim of improving safety and crime of illegal market. There are some agencies in our government considering similar things. This policy has an intrinsic challenge – interagency coordination.  Important involvement of Ministry of Health, secretary of drugs, human rights actors within the government should also be involved in this discussion. Regulation of market as any other market. Work promoting awareness – we know there’s a lot of work to get done. We recognise the value of working on this topic and with public opinion and judiciary. That’s the case so far in Argentina.

John: WOLA:

No coincidence with shift toward legal regulation is taking place in democracies in response to the need of their citizens. Legal regulatory approach to managing the markets – needs to be focused on building new evidence base. They’re correct in starting this new course and are responsible to their citizens and voters. Legal cannabis – Canada – is not an event, it’s a process. Real opportunities for research and evaluation and learning from one another. Regulation doesn’t mean there are no longer any rules – it means more rules! With new boundaries and roles for law enforcement and administrative procedures. We often hear about how policies need to be evidence based. Legal regulated cannabis markets – now have opportunity to build new research. No longer legal challenges to go along with.

Conventions do allow for non-medical use of these substances. Uruguay has framed the issue well and properly – and Canada has additionally acknowledge and that it brings them out of treaty conventions and that this needs to be addressed. Ensure that legal regulation is line with state regulation. No one-size-fits-all model for legal regulation. Every country needs a different approach. Let’s compare the impacts of legal regulation and prohibitive markets. Regulation is not throwing out the rules – myriad of decisions that govt needs to make – its complex and challenging. Will there be home grown? Will there be social clubs? Who’s eligible, who’s ineligible? For availability and access – what ages, is it from a pharmacy? Does the government set the price? What are the packaging requirements? Its not that there are no rules – there are different rules. If we treat cannabis like most other issues in society, we can benefit. We’re only at the beginning of this process – we’ve got a lot to learn. We’ve focused on Americas today – but also Luxembourg, New Zealand. Vienna system is shown to be incapable of dealing with this questions.

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