Mexico One month ago, Mexico's Supreme Court issued a historic ruling when it approved the personal cultivation, possession and use of cannabis. The judges issued their ruling on constitutional grounds and while it only relates to four individuals, it has created a global precedent and opened the door to legalised recreational cannabis use in Mexico.
One month ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation issued a historic ruling when it approved the personal cultivation, possession and use of cannabis. The judges issued their ruling on constitutional grounds and while it only relates to four individuals, it has created a global precedent and opened the door to legalised recreational cannabis use in Mexico.
At the start of November 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation issued a historic ruling when it approved the personal cultivation, possession and use of cannabis. The judges of the Supreme Court decided that the national laws prohibiting these activities violated the rights of Mexican citizens. The Supreme Court’s ruling was neither based on the health concerns related to cannabis, nor the high costs of imprisonment, but on fundamental human rights.
While the ruling only relates to the four individuals who submitted the appeal to the Supreme Court, there is no doubt that it is a major step forward and that it sets a precedent at national level in a country that has fought for years against the horrors of the cartels and the drug trade. The ruling will have an international effect too. Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation is of the opinion that people have the right to smoke cannabis and by issuing its ruling on the matter, the door has been opened to legalised recreational non-profit cannabis use in Mexico.
Historic legal ruling in favour of SMART
The judges of the Supreme Court passed the ruling with four votes in favour and one against, stating that an “absolute prohibition” of cannabis use would be unconstitutional. The judges distanced themselves from public opinion on the matter, which is largely negative, as well as from a number of political parties that maintain a neutral attitude. The ruling describes a number of articles of Mexico’s General Health Law following the reconsideration of a previous judicial decision that was made against the four members of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Auto-consumption of Marijuana (Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (SMART).
It all began when SMART, a group of four Mexican lawyers and entrepreneurs with the goal of influencing the debate along judicial lines and reducing Mexico’s drug-related violence, submitted a request to the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (Comisión Federal para la Protección de Riesgos Sanitarios) on 31 May 2013. In Mexico, possession of a certain amount of drugs for personal use is permitted, but other activities related to personal use, such as cultivation and transportation, are prohibited.
They requested recognition for their right to use cannabis for personal ends as well as all associated matters, with the exception of the trade in cannabis. Their request was initially declined, but after this first setback, the group made an appeal in which they included their right to individual freedom. The subdistrict court dismissed the case, after which SMART turned to the Supreme Court and that is how the judges of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation came to turn their country’s policy on its head and give priority to individual freedom over health concerns. While the ruling only permits the litigating party (i.e. the four members of SMART) to use, cultivate and possess cannabis for recreational purposes, in practice this will provide the process of legalisation with an enormous boost. Moreover, the way has been paved for other citizens to do the same and anyone who requests it must be given the right to consumer cannabis for recreational, non-profit purposes.
An absolute prohibition on cannabis is unconstitutional
SMART’s most important argument is based on their rights to freely develop their personalities, dignity, privacy and freedom of conscience – rights protected by Mexico’s constitution. But it was only once their paths crossed with that of Judge Arturo Zaldívar that their story became a success. Arturo Zaldívar is considered to be the most progressive member of the Supreme Court and he decided to petition for the legalisation of cannabis. In doing so, he based his case on the fact that the health concerns surrounding cannabis are less significant than or comparable to those of tobacco. Therefore a prohibition on cannabis does not properly reflect the provisions of the constitution and the autonomy of individuals.
“An absolute prohibition is unconstitutional, it is time to look to the future. This ruling only applies to personal use and does not permit trade. It does not claim that cannabis is harmless, it merely states that the veto currently in effect is out of proportion,” said Zaldívar.
It seems complicated but there will still be restrictions in effect following this historic judicial ruling, but just like in four of the US states, the legitimacy of consumption is expanding. Mexico must re-examine its drugs policy, which is very strict and severely punishes anything related to cannabis, because the fact that the above situation has arisen is clear proof that the war against drugs has failed. Wide-spread social debate is what is called for and we must not forget that after Morocco, Mexico is the second largest cannabis producer in the world.
The debate for and against legalisation
The Supreme Court’s judicial ruling has initiated an intense debate between the advocators and opponents of the legalisation of cannabis. As stated above, Mexico’s political parties have yet to make clear statements on legalisation. However none have publically adopted a negative view of the issue either, as they are concerned it would affect their approval ratings.
The only party that is in favour of immediate legalisation is the PRD, which consists of various left-wing groups and which currently is the second largest party in Mexico’s Congress of the Union. On the other side of the issue stands the PRI, currently the ruling party and the party to which the President of the Republic, Enrique Peña Nieto, belongs. The PRI has spoken in favour of a public referendum, while the PAN, the conservative party and the largest of the opposition parties, has merely proposed that a debate be organised. The Catholic Church has also opted to remain silent on the issue except to call for a calm analysis of the matter.
It is clear, however, that very little progress has been made after years of fighting against organised crime. On the contrary, the large number of deaths and missing persons as a consequence of the drugs violence and the war on the cartels have made the arguments of opponents of the deregulation of cannabis seem weak.
Advocates of deregulation have frequently explained that legalisation would hit the narcos hard and would result in a reduction in the violence affecting the citizenry. In addition to the effect it would have on the illegal drug trade, deregulation would generate considerable funds for the state. Arguments in favour of legalising cannabis often touch on the criminal law aspects of the issue. Some advocates propose that a prohibition on cannabis results in unnecessary or excessive prison sentences. It has also been shown that prohibiting cannabis use is in conflict with the legislation that permits the use of substances such as alcohol and tobacco, which pose even greater health risks. It is clear that with this historic ruling, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation has paved the way for change in this Latin American country. The cannabis revolution continues.