Mexico Opens Door To Legalization

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In an 8-3 ruling Monday, Mexico’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the prohibition of recreational marijuana use in Mexico, clearing a path to legalization.

Mexico’s lower house passed a legalization bill in March, but it is still awaiting legislative approval in a gridlocked Senate. The decisive court ruling, clearing legal obstacles, could push lawmakers to finalize the legislation.

“Today is a historic day for liberties,” court president Arturo Zaldívar said in a video after the ruling. “The right to free development of the personality is consolidated in the case of … recreational use of marijuana.”

Mexico could become one of the world’s largest markets for legal cannabis.

In its current form, the bill before lawmakers would legalize adult use of cannabis and regulate its production for medical, industrial and recreational purposes. Users over the age 18 could consume marijuana and have up to 28 grams at home. The bill would also allow users to form cannabis associations to grow and share marijuana for personal use.

Human Rights Watch in April urged Mexico to fully decriminalize simple marijuana possession, saying that the bill could be a crucial first step in Mexico reevaluating its approach to drug policy.

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said that the prohibition of marijuana has had “devastating costs” for human rights in Mexico, imprisoning thousands of people and exposing others to “serious abuses at the hands of police.”

Some supporters of the bill, including Human Rights Watch, argue that it does not go far enough because possession of more than 28 grams would remain a criminal offense. Lisa Sanchez, director of Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia, a nongovernmental organization, said in an interview with Transform Drug Policy Foundation that a major concern over the bill in its current form is that it does not eliminate incentives for the police to “continue to harass and arrest” cannabis users or use quantity thresholds to extort those caught possessing the drug.

If Mexico legalizes marijuana, one could “travel from the Arctic Circle in Canada, down the West Coast of the USA, to Cancún on the Caribbean sea, without entering a jurisdiction where cannabis is prohibited,” Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug policy Foundation, told The Washington Post. (While marijuana remains illegal in the United States federally, it has been legalized or decriminalized in some states.)

The fact that millions of people already live in legal cannabis jurisdictions in North America opened up space for the reform debate in Mexico, he said. “There is a sense of growing momentum — which has profound implications for the U.N. international drugs treaties, which still nominally prohibit such reforms.”

In December 2020, the United Nations’ drug policymaking body — in a tight vote of 27 in favor, 25 against — recognized the medicinal and therapeutic potential of marijuana. Following a 2019 World Health Organization recommendation, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis from the strictest drug tier, Schedule IV, of the 1961 Convention — where it had resided alongside heroin for decades.

Critics of Mexico’s bill argue that a large share of Mexicans oppose legal marijuana and that the measure might not reduce violence fueled by the illegal drug trade.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has acknowledged divided opinion on the issue, even within his own government, floated the possibility of a referendum at a news conference Tuesday.

“Of course we’re going to respect what the court has decided, and we’re going to evaluate,” he told reporters. But “there are two views.”