Legalization isn’t a priority for Mexican politicians, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Conclusions of the National Debate on Marijuana Use in Mexico
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – APRIL 21: President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, shows the decree for regulate the medicinal use of the marijuana, during the Conclusions of the National Debate on Marijuana Use in Mexico. Mexico City, Mexico on April 21, 2016. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Legal weed in Mexico seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago. But our neighbors to the south have been taking some big steps towards cannabis legalization. They decriminalized the personal use possession of five grams in 2009, and then legalized medical marijuana just last year. However, Mexico’s medical marijuana law is very strict, only CBD oil with less than 1% THC is allowed.
In the midst of a presidential election, full cannabis legalization doesn’t seem to be a priority for Mexican politicians at the moment. However, perhaps Mexico doesn’t need politicians to legalize cannabis. That’s because the Supreme Court also has the power to enact laws in the country, and one of its eleven judges has his sights on legal weed.
The first chamber of the court begins on April 11th, 2018, and they will discuss the case of lawyer Ulrich Richter. Richter is arguing that the prohibition of cannabis violates a person’s human right to the “free development of personality.” His argument is supported by Supreme Court Judge, Jorge Mario Pardo, who has embarked on a project that believes the same thing: that absolute marijuana prohibition is excessive and violates human rights.
If Richter wins his case, he will be permitted to grow and consume cannabis legally. However, he won’t be allowed to sell weed and, more importantly, this ruling will not extend to the general Mexican public, yet.
Mexican law is different than American law. Unlike in the U.S. where the Supreme Court only needs to rule on something once for it become law, in Mexico, the Supreme Court needs to issue the same ruling five times in order to enact change.
This is exactly how Mexico passed gay marriage just weeks before the U.S. did in 2015; the Mexican Supreme Court ruled against gay marriage bans five times. After the fifth ruling, the court follows up with a general ruling, known as a jurisprudential thesis. In the case of gay marriage, the jurisprudential thesis stated that laws “restricting marriage to heterosexual couples were discriminatory and unconstitutional.” If the Supreme Court makes five similar rulings on the prohibition of cannabis, Mexico could see marijuana legalization as a result.
Richter isn’t the first person to bring this case to the Mexican Supreme Court. In fact, it’s not even the first time he’s personally attempted to discuss this issue in the Court. He tried this time last year and was rejected. But this year, after Mexico recently passed medical marijuana and watched its northern neighbor, California, fully legalize the herb, the tide is changing.
The precedent for this case was set in 2015. Four members of an activist group, the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption, or SMART as an acronym in Spanish, sued the Supreme Court for their right to grow, use, and transport cannabis. Their argument was the same one Richter and Pardo are using: that the prohibition of cannabis violates the human right to the free development of personality.
The right to the development of personality is not only part of the Mexican constitution, but also part of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. Basically, it means that individuals have the right to decide what’s best for their lives and bodies, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. Therefore, every adult has the right to decide if they want to use cannabis or not, so long as it’s not affecting anyone else. Many compare the argument to eating junk food: it’s not good for you, but the state doesn’t have the right to stop you.
SMART won their case in 2015, 4-1, setting the precedent for Richter’s upcoming argument. If the Supreme Court gives a similar ruling to Richter, they will only need to make the same ruling three more times to change the law. If that happens, it will invalidate the five articles of the Law of Health that prohibit the use of cannabis. They plan to keep it illegal for minors, but otherwise, cannabis would be fully legalized in Mexico.
This low-key legal strategy could not only end cannabis prohibition in Mexico but set an international precedent. Because the free development of personality is a UN Human Right, citizens in other countries could try a similar tactic for legalization.
Not to mention, legalizing cannabis in Mexico could take a significant chunk of change and power from cartels, who terrorize the country with violence and corruption. It would also be good for the economy and tourism. In fact, the secretary of tourism proposed legalizing the herb earlier this year, but only in states that receive the most tourists, like Quintana Roo and Baja California. His idea was controversial, but it brought the issue to the nation’s attention.
Former President, Vicente Fox, has also been outspoken on the issue of legalization. He is hosting the first international forum for cannabis legalization in Mexico, “CannaMexico,” at his “Centro Fox” in San Cristóbal, Guanajuato this May.
If Richter’s Supreme Court Case case is successful, the path to legalization in Mexico will be clear.