Marijuana’s Path to Legality in Mexico

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Written by Arturo Lua Castillo, SSDP’s Latin America Policy Intern. Although marijuana legalization in Mexico lacks appeal amongst much of the public and is still a subject of stigma and misinformation, the country has recently taken crucial steps towards legalization.

A Different Process

In the United States, marijuana policy reform has primarily taken shape through state-wide ballot initiatives which have resulted in the legalization of marijuana in several states across the US. However, the means by which marijuana is approaching legality in Mexico is through the Supreme Court. In 2015 the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of an individual’s right to use marijuana. This case was brought up by the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption (SMART in Spanish). SMART argued that prohibition was unconstitutional and violated the human right to “the free development of personality”, found in both the UN Declaration of Human Rights ( Article 22) and in the Mexican Constitution. This argument contrasts greatly from those we see in the United States in that it is not rooted in social justice or economic benefits but instead as a fundamental human right (yes, marijuana as a human right). This same argument would be null in the US as this human right is not explicitly stated in the US constitution. The Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in favor of SMART and granted them the right to grow, use, and transport marijuana in Mexico. However, the ruling does not automatically extend these benefits to the rest of the country’s citizens because the judicial process in Mexico calls for a total of five rulings from the Supreme Court on similar cases before the court can issue a thesis stating that marijuana prohibition is in direct violation of human rights and the country’s constitution. In 2015, this legal framework is what legalized gay marriage in Mexico so the potential for real change is present.

Mounting Pressure

The same case has been used recently in the Mexican courts by Ulrich Richter to bring the total of pro-marijuana rulings to two. While many hope that more cases will be presented to the court in the future, public officials are catching on to the changing atmosphere surrounding prohibition and the implications of what a post-prohibition Mexico may look like. Recently, Supreme Court Judge José Ramón Cossío Díaz made a public statement in the Mexican publication Mileno acknowledging that the prohibition of marijuana in the country has caused violence and instability stemming from the black market for illicit substances. Mexico’s tourism minister, Enrique de la Madrid, recently suggested the legalization of marijuana in states with a heavy reliance of tourism (see my previous blog post on tourist cities in Mexico) as a means of curbing growing gang violence and murder rates. Legalization and its many economic benefits have also become more favorable as many US states, notably California, have moved towards legalization.

Political Reverberations

It should also be noted that legalization in one of Latin America’s largest and most influential countries could potentially result in a set of new thoughts and policies across the rest of the continent. Even more interesting is the fact that legalization is not only being treated as an economic or democratic issue involving the will of the people but also as a fundamental issue of human rights. It seems that at least some Mexican politicians and Judicial figures are recognizing their potential to not only better their country by stopping the root of violence and organized crime, but also to simply do the right thing according to their own constitution and universal human rights which transcend national borders. To read more about the 2015 decision by the Mexican Supreme Court, check out this blog post from members of EPSD Mexico who participated in protests outside the Supreme Court leading up to the decision.