Legal Marijuana in Mexico Gets Boost in Supreme Court Ruling

  • Immediate impact of court's decision limited to single case
  • Ruling may fuel debate in a nation wracked by drug violence

Mexico’s Supreme Court opened the door to legal marijuana use by granting permission to four people to grow cannabis for their own consumption.

The top court voted 4-1 in favor of recreational use for the plaintiffs on Wednesday. While the ruling applies only to those who asked for the court order, it nudges the Latin American nation toward a potential “paradigm shift” in public policy, said Lisa Sanchez, head of the drug policy program at Mexico United Against Crime, a non-profit group that supported allowing personal consumption for the people in the case.

The justices’ decision may spark a broader discussion of drug legalization in Mexico, said Alejandro Hope, the security editor at website and a former Mexican intelligence official. A surge in violence has left more than 70,000 people dead and about 25,000 missing since then-President Felipe Calderon send the army to battle drug cartels in 2006.

“The high levels of violence are one of the drivers here,” Hope said by telephone before the court ruling was announced. “This doesn’t strike down any laws, but it does open the door to further court challenges to existing drug laws.”

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto in an interview last year said he’s against the legalization of marijuana because it would open the door to increased harm from narcotics. Cannabis is legal for recreational use in U.S. states such as Washington and Colorado and allowed for medicinal purposes in the nation’s capital. Uruguay in 2013 legalized marijuana sales.

In a message on his Twitter page Wednesday, Pena Nieto said the federal government respects the Supreme Court’s decision and that Mexico has promoted a broad discussion about the global challenge of drug use in forums including the United Nations.

"Today’s ruling will open a debate about the best regulation to inhibit drug use, an important public health issue," Pena Nieto said.

Sanchez said Mexico United Against Crime’s goal is to bring greater urgency to a discussion on drug legalization and improve public policy.

"This pushes us a step forward in a debate where we’re years behind," she said by telephone after the court ruling. "We’re delighted. This is a ruling that adds to freedom."

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