International Report: Mexico

October 14, 2017


Right now, recreational marijuana consumption is illegal in Mexico — unless you happen to be Josefina Ricaño Nava, Armando Santacruz González, José Pablo Girault Ruíz or Juan Francisco Torres Landa. All four were plaintiffs in a 2015 case that was argued in front of Mexico’s Supreme Court. Unlike legalization efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere, where the push for legalization is often approached from largely scientific or criminal justice standpoints, this case argued that recreational cannabis use should be legal because it is a choice that primarily impacts the health of the individual and that individual’s personal development. Since those freedoms are constitutionally-protected rights in Mexico, the case essentially argues that restricting citizens from enjoying marijuana products is violating their inalienable human rights.

Remarkably, the Supreme Court upheld this interpretation, and granted an exception to the law — but only for the four plaintiffs who filed the case. It’s a highly unusual and clearly symbolic ruling, but in many ways it had always been a largely symbolic case. The four plaintiffs are all associated with pro-legalization organization SMART (Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerable, or the Mexican Society for Responsible & Tolerant Consumption) and/or its parent organization México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (Mexico United Against Delinquence). The novelty of approaching from a human rights angle was as much strategic as anything else, and was never intended to necessarily incite an immediate overhaul of Mexico’s drug policies.

However incremental this two-year-old outcome may appear to be, it actually turns out to have heralded significant changes in the Mexican government’s attitude toward marijuana. Just this year, medical marijuana was overwhelmingly approved by the senate and then signed into law by President Peña Nieto, who had previously stood in staunch opposition to any legalization efforts. It will take time to see the effects of this first step, but regardless of what might happen, the legal foundation has been laid. Consuming marijuana is a constitutional right -- at least for four Mexican citizens, and, with time, hopefully many more.

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