On Wednesday, Mexico’s Supreme Court reached a landmark decision when it held that it was legal to grow marijuana for recreational use - for the four individuals who brought the case. So far, the holding is limited in that regard. But, it nonetheless is good news for advocates and supporters of drug law reform.
The court’s decision does not go as far to legalize the use of marijuana but it is a very bold step in that direction - in a country that has long since been reluctant to relax its drug laws.
One activist celebrating the decision, Meliton Gonzalez, exclaimed that, “We’ve seen how drug policy and prohibition have only helped drug traffickers rake in money and commit terrible crimes to control drug markets.”
If the court reaches four more consecutive decisions of the same kind, the court’s ruling then becomes jurisprudence in Mexico. It will set a legal precedent in a country that has suffered well over 100,000 deaths in the past ten years due to drug-related crime. It will also force the government’s hand in reviewing the law.
The case at hand was first brought in 2013 by a group of individuals who were forced by government regulators to stop growing marijuana plants for the group’s private consumption. In ruling on the case, the court voted 4-1 that it was unconstitutional to prohibit people from cultivating and growing marijuana for personal use.
Drug reform proponents argue that the criminalization of drugs only raises the street value of these drugs and costs the criminal justice system spends millions of dollars annually by arresting and prosecuting offenders caught with very small amounts. It is very much the same argument of their counterparts in the United States.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has had expressed skepticism about the benefits of relaxing drug laws, responded to the court’s decision by tweeting that the ruling would “open a debate on the best regulation to inhibit drug consumption.”
Pena Nieto later added that, “This does not mean that you can freely commercialize, consume and legalize the consumption of marijuana.” He said that law enforcement raids to destroy illegal marijuana crops would continue.
Government officials took to television to emphasize to Mexican citizens that the ruling was limited solely to the four people who brought the case. The authorities insisted that cultivating marijuana continues to remain illegal for the rest of the country’s population.
Proponents of reform argue that, in addition to avoiding mass incarceration of low level users and dealers, legalization of certain drugs will snatch the power out of the hands of the evil drug cartels and go a long way in the effort to destroy such organizations.
Pena Nieto hinted last year that he acknowledged he would need to adopt a more liberal stance on marijuana, firmly stating that Mexico and the United States could not “pursue diverging policies on the issue.”