Mexico legalizes weed – for 4 people

On Nov. 4, the Mexican Supreme Court declared that individuals have the right to grow and possess marijuana for personal use. That is, for the four individuals who filed a suit against the federal government claiming the use of marijuana was a civil right based on the constitutional provision that ensures all Mexicans have the right to the “free development of personality.”

In 2009, Mexico quietly decriminalized the use of all drugs in small amounts for personal use, which allowed individuals to possess slightly more than five grams without fear of prosecution. The cannabis club that filed the suit, the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption of Marijuana), goes by the acronym SMART and consists of four members – one of which does not even smoke marijuana.

Driven by a desire to reduce Mexico’s rampant drug-related violence, SMART filed a legal petition demanding the right to grow, own and use marijuana in 2013. Four out of the five ministers of justice ruled in favor of legalization, potentially setting the precedent for future cases like this one. This 4 to 1 ruling granted the four plaintiffs an amparo, a kind of legal protection by the Mexican federal government that prevents the individuals from facing prosecution for the growing, possession and use of marijuana – which is still illegal in Mexico.

SMART’s case relied on the idea that using marijuana is just one way for individuals to differentiate themselves from the rest of society, under the Mexican constitutional protection of an individual’s right to be unique and independent.

“Our objective was always to change drug policy in this country which is one of the main motors for the violence, corruption and the violation of human rights in Mexico,” Armando Santacruz, a member of SMART, told VICE News. “This is a tremendously powerful decision that could open the way for real change. We’ve made history. It’s a hole in the dike but it’s the first hole in the dike.”

This ruling lays the groundwork for a new wave of legal action that could move Mexico and other Latin American countries toward legalization. Under the rules of Mexico’s legal system, if four similar cases are brought to the Supreme Court and the judges rule in favor each time, all judges in the country will have to follow this precedent on all future cases  – effectively legalizing marijuana for all Mexican citizens. This same five-case process was used to legalize gay marriage in Mexico earlier this year.

Mexico has some of the most conservative drug laws in Latin America, a result of the United States’ heavy-handed influence on Mexican drug policy. Due to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in the United States, there has been an increase in the production of high quality marijuana in America, reducing the demand for Mexican import weed and cutting into the drug cartels’ profits. Mexican cartels have the most to lose from U.S. legalization efforts. The United States government has disregarded this in its attempts to enforce the draconian drug policies currently in place.

According to a 2010 report by the RAND Corporation, marijuana accounts for more than one-fifth of cartel revenue, approximately $1.5 billion in revenue per year. Some estimates have marijuana accounting for upwards of one-third of Mexican drug cartel profits, although recent increases in the use of meth and heroin in the United States have also reduced the demand for Mexican marijuana.

The rate of marijuana use in Mexico is quite low, one 2011 study estimated that only 2 percent of Mexicans had smoked marijuana in the past year, compared to a 2013 survey that reported 7.5 percent of Americans had used weed in the previous month. The majority of Mexicans, approximately 77 percent according to Fox News Latino, are against marijuana legalization after being forced to live with the destruction, brutality and violence of the cartels and corrupt government officials. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 60 percent of Mexican prisoners in federal jail have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said he opposes marijuana legalization but that he will recognize and respect the Supreme Court ruling.

Antonio Zaldivar, the Supreme Court justice who backed the case, released a press statement stating, “The responsible decision taken to experiment with the effects of this substance  – whatever personal harm it might do – belongs within the autonomy of the individual, protected by their freedom to develop themselves.”

This decision was based on the concept of fundamental human rights, not on marijuana’s effects on public health, incarceration rates, or the cost to the government and the public. Several small drug-possession cases in Canada have hinged on this human-rights argument, and in 1994 a Colombian constitutional court case used the phrase “free-development” of personality in arguing against the criminalization of drug use. This case’s lack of a criminal-justice component makes it the first federal legalization of marijuana on this basis and a potentially precedent-setting case internationally.

Justice Olga Sanchez, who voted in favor of the ruling, told the Mexican public, “This court recognized the reach of personal freedom.”

Uruguay legalized marijuana in 2013, putting the government in charge of the majority of production and sale, although individuals can grow up to six plants and cannabis clubs up to 99. Former president José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano told VICE News that the law’s main intention was to seize the market from illegal dealers – a health and public safety issue, not an issue of freedom or personal choice. Measures for marijuana reform are currently being debated in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica, and Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister of Canada, has pledged to legalize marijuana during his term. In the United States, legalization bills are on the 2016 ballots in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.


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