MEXICO CITY - Mexico's Senate will vote for a bill to fully legalize marijuana in the next few days, a key lawmaker told Reuters, marking a major step toward changing the country's approach to the drug by removing it as a source of income for violent drug gangs.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist critic of Mexico's long-standing drug war, has since last year signaled his openness to the decriminalization of marijuana as part of a broader shift on security policy.
Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the leader of Lopez Obrador's MORENA party in the upper chamber of Congress, said in an interview late Monday that a vote on the proposal would take place later
this week or next week.
"The end of the prohibitionist policy is good for the country," he said, adding that the bill would regulate personal use and sale of marijuana as well as research into the plant. It also contemplates creation of cooperatives that would grow marijuana, plus a new regulatory agency.
If approved by the Senate, the proposal would proceed to the lower house for a vote. MORENA and its allies hold majorities in both chambers.
Late last year, the Supreme Court said lawmakers had until Oct. 24 to legalize marijuana, after the court ruled in several cases that prohibition of the recreational use of the drug violated the constitution.
Under Mexican law, if the Supreme Court issues the same decision five times, the rulings set a precedent and the court can then order the establishment of a regulatory framework as
well as further legal action.
While the leader of MORENA in the lower house, Mario Delgado, has proposed that the government tightly administer a future marijuana market, Monreal was noncommittal.
"There are some [proposals] that would establish a type of state-run monopoly ... but we want to leave it more open," he said.
The 59-year-old lawyer also left open the possibility that the legislation could be put on hold if a public referendum on legalizing marijuana sought by Lopez Obrador were to be authorized first.
"We will know in the next few days if we're able to build a [legislative] consensus or if we wait for the referendum," said Monreal.
The legislative leader emphasized that "many companies" have approached him and expressed their interest in the proposal, following similar initiatives in several U.S. states, including California, as well as Canada.