Lawmakers in Mexico voted 316-129, with 23 abstentions, to legalize use of recreational marijuana on March 10.

The progressive initiative is headed to Senators for a second round of deliberation.

Senators already voted to approve the initiative in last November but deputies made changes to the bill.

Legislators are expected to review the changes made and end the debate.

It decriminalizes the recreational use of marijuana in designated locations and homes for those 18 and older. It also allows citizens to carry up to 28 grams (1 ounce) and to own six to eight plants in their homes.

It opens up the industry for significant investment and business in Mexico.

In terms of criminality, the initiative is hoping to strike the funding of organized crime in Mexico and help those convicted for minor marijuana-related crimes.

Nevertheless, the bill has met criticism with detractors on both sides of the political spectrum denouncing the initiative which is largely pushed by the federal political party MORENA.

In last November, Senators approved the bill, with 18 opposed. From those 18 votes, a vast majority were issued by the National Action Party, or PAN.

The right-wing-oriented and conservative party is one of the primary opponents to the federal party political agenda.

The legalization of marijuana in a conservative country like Mexico has spurred a nationwide debate regarding the potential benefits and possible negative effects it might have. With some concerns about how lawmakers are approaching the subject.

Independent National Senator Emilio Alvarez shared his opinion with Anadolu Agency as he was one of the 18 senators that voted against the initiative.

“I think that the prohibitionist and punitive inheritance continues to weigh on the minds of some legislators. The conception of marijuana, as the great threat is still in force, is still seen as an element of social and moral perdition,” he said.

When approaching marijuana legalization, morality might weigh on the mind of a religious population such as Mexico.

According to the last census in 2020, more than 97 million Mexicans identified as Catholics, making it the most prominent creed amongst Mexicans, with 82.7% of the population.

“What we know about cannabis in terms of its effects on the human being is not acceptable by the church in terms of its recreational use. What we know is an affectation that is totally detrimental to the person and their entire environment; family, educational, work, social, etc,” said Alfonso Gerardo Miranda Guardiola, an auxiliary bishop in the city of Monterrey.

Mental health disorders have been linked with persistent marijuana, according to detractors. But a 2014 study by Wayne Hall, which researched the past two decades, revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use, concluding that it is not entirely true.

“It is difficult to decide whether cannabis use has had any effects on psychosis incidence because even if the relationship were causal, cannabis use would produce a very modest increase in incidence,” wrote Hall.

The 20-year study found an increase in reports of anxiety, depression and psychotic episodes amongst “naïve” users and those with mental health antecedents.

The study also found that regular use in adolescence did seem to double the risk for being diagnosed with schizophrenia, with some researchers insisting that there is no causation and that it could be very well explained by shared risk factors.

For Mexican clergy, such findings seem to represent a causal relationship between marijuana use and long-standing health effects, which is more than enough to keep criminalizing its use rather than regulate it and inform the population of possible dangers of irresponsible consumption.

For Angeles Bravo, head of the National Front for the Family in the state of Mexico, bills like this pose a threat to Mexican values and society overall.

“Today we talk about marijuana, tomorrow we are going to talk about abortion, the day after tomorrow we are going to talk about the prohibition of freedom of speech. All these laws must be read together because they have an agenda. It seems to be an attack on the family,” said Bravo.

The conservative nonprofit organization was created as a response to then-President Enrique Pena Nieto’s initiative to legalize same-sex marriages and instruct dependencies to start integrating sexual diversity and anti-homophobic content in the public schools curriculum.

Bravo denounces an effort by the current government to dismantle the family nucleus through laws such as the legalization of cannabis, decriminalization of abortion and same-sex marriage. A context where the PAN party is the only remaining opposition force.

“In the state of Mexico, conversion therapies were prohibited, the penal code was modified with one of the most restrictive laws in the world with penalties for parents from three to six years for taking their children to psychological therapy because the child has doubts about their sexual identity. That is one of the most restrictive things globally, and the only ones who voted against it were the PAN party,” said Bravo

In October last year, legislators deemed that subjecting youths who identify themselves as gay to conversion therapies “violates human dignity and has the effect of preventing, impairing or nullifying the recognition or exercise of fundamental rights in conditions of equity and equal opportunities and treatment of people.”

Bravo said it was within the PAN political party where the only legislators in the country opposed the criminalization of conversion therapies.

She said high-profile political legislators have joined conservative and right-wing causes such as hers, and she mentions Juan Carlos Romero Hicks and Madeleine Bonnafoux Alcaraz, the federal lawmakers behind social movements like the National Front for the Family.

Both deputies voted against marijuana legalization.

“To approach a discussion of rights from the logic of morality is to impose a vision of society and conduct on others. The state cannot legislate and regulate based on morality. It has to do so based on the exercise of everyone’s right,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez who voted against the bill said that although the bill is a good first step, there are still many problems with the legislation. After all, marijuana will still be illegal in the country, as the legal amount is 28 grams, higher amounts will be punishable by law.

Not only that, the initiative leaves farmers at the expense of big companies and foreign investors, with the cannabis industry to be overtaken by wealthy businessmen.,

“Without stimulus for small producers, the market itself will widen the inequities,” he said.

Although the debate is striding toward the right direction, it mainly relies on moral perspectives and a punitive stand to users, perpetuating significant issues in the country even after the Senate chooses to legalize recreational cannabis.

“From the standpoint of rights, we will continue to demand that criminalization and abuse of youth be avoided and that consumers are in a condition of protection and dignity,” said Alvarez.

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