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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Mexican Supreme Court Makes Landmark Marijuana Ruling

The court’s criminal chamber voted that Mexican citizens should be allowed to grow marijuana for their personal use, challenging Mexico’s existing substance abuse laws.

On Wednesday, November 4, Mexico’s Supreme Court handed down a decision that moved the country towards legalizing marijuana. The court’s criminal chamber voted that Mexican citizens should be allowed to grow marijuana for their personal use. The case challenged Mexico’s existing substance abuse laws and reflected changing sentiments towards current drug policy. 

“What the Supreme Court ruled was that the prohibition of the possession, use and cultivation for personal purposes is unconstitutional and is actually a violation of the right to the free development of one’s personality,” explains Hannah Hetzer, senior policy manager and Latin American liaison at the Drug Policy Alliance. 

The case represented the efforts of a prominent Mexican anticrime group, Mexico United Against Crime, to change ineffective drug laws. Two members of the group formed an alliance with two other people from the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption. The group sought a license from Mexico’s drug regulatory agency to use marijuana, but their request was denied. Their appeal of that decision eventually reached the Supreme Court. And while the ruling did not legalize marijuana on a federal level, Hetzer believes it did set a precedent for future legal action that could eventually reshape international drug policy. 

Image from Wikipedia/Creative Commons
Image from Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Mexico is a country that has suffered immensely from the war on drugs. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the American-backed antidrug campaign that began during the Reagan presidency has caused chaos and turmoil in Mexico and produced few positive results. Mexico continues to experience high levels of violence as a result of illicit drug trafficking organizations and efforts to counter them. Criminal cartels—which traffic ninety percent of the cocaine that enters the United States—have killed an estimated sixty thousand Mexican soldiers, police, politicians and civilians since 2006. 

Mexico continues to be plagued by violence and political corruption. But in the United States, the consumption of drugs is higher than ever. In fact, the U.S. leads the world in illegal drug use despite harsh anti-drug laws and over $1 trillion spent on the drug war since it was declared in 1971. 

In recent years, the United States started reshaping its drug policy by reducing mandatory minimum sentences, offering amnesty to non-violent, first-time drug offenders and legalizing medical and recreational marijuana on a state-by-state basis. 

The trend in implementing alternative drug policies is being seen internationally as well. In 2013, Uruguay enacted a law to legalize marijuana though the creation of a legal marijuana industry. Chile followed suit, harvesting its first crop of medical marijuana earlier this year. Bolivia has granted permission for traditional uses of coca, the plant used to make cocaine. The Netherlands has allowed the use of recreational drugs such as marijuana for years and Portugal has legalized the use of all drugs. 

What makes the case in Mexico unique is the grounds on which the argument was made. “It’s unusual that this case was argued on human rights grounds because a lot of the drug policy reform debate centers around public health and public security,” says Hetzer. She suspects that the Mexican Supreme Court ruling is the first in a long line of decisions that will reshape global drug policy. 

Listen to the radio story here.

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