Update November 5, 2015: Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the cannabis club SMART so that its members can grow, consume and distribute marijuana for personal use. The new ruling will not immediately affect the country’s current laws but it opens the door for other groups to submit appeals and further marijuana legalization throughout Mexico.
Mexico’s Supreme Court next Wednesday will vote on a case that many think could set a precedent for widespread marijuana legalization in the country. But strangely enough, the forces behind Mexico’s weed-legalization efforts have little do with the greater criticism of a drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past decade.
Instead, Mexican weed enthusiasts argue they have a basic human right to get high.
In 2013, Mexico’s first marijuana club, The Mexican Association for Responsible Self-Consumption and Tolerance (or SMART in Spanish), filed a legal petition demanding the right to cultivate, possess and consume marijuana for recreational purposes. The initial motion was denied, but SMART managed to appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court.
“We’re arguing that the government is infringing on the constitutional doctrine of the free development of personality,” SMART lawyer Andres Aguinaco told Fusion. He says their legal strategy is “different from the overall legalization debate, which focuses on drug war death tolls and disappearances.”
Aguinaco says the constitution protects the notion that an individual is free to use his or her best judgement concerning what’s best for their life and body, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other’s rights. “This applies to eating vast amounts of fast food and becoming obese, or spending your time smoking pot,” the lawyer said.
“The state cannot prohibit you from eating a bunch of tacos because it’s bad for your health,” Aguinaco explained. The government can take measures such as imposing a tax on sugary drinks and sodas to promote weight loss, but not necessarily ban consumption.
In the same vein, SMART thinks the government should run prevention or educational awareness campaigns rather than criminalizing the use of weed.
SMART likes their odds. Mexico’s Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage before the U.S. high court did, and has taken progressive positions on other issues such as abortion and transgender rights. One of the five justices, Arturo Zaldivar, has already stated he intends to rule in favor of the plaintiffs. “We’re optimistic since at least four of the five judges are known as liberal. All we need is a simple majority,” said Aguinaco.
There’s also some momentum. Last September, a Mexican judge authorized the use of medical marijuana in the case of an 8-year-old-girl suffering from a severe type of epilepsy.
A favorable ruling in the SMART case doesn’t mean marijuana will automatically become legal nationwide, but it will likely set a precedent or at least encourage a landslide of other appeals.
It’s hard to say how legalization would affect the drug cartels, but supporters of legalization say it would help reduce pot smokers from having to rely on criminals to score weed.
But some criminal groups are already adapting to legalization in the U.S. and the Mexican weed market is not that big. The government’s last drug use poll numbers estimate that only 5 to 6 million Mexicans consume marijuana in a country of approximately 120 million.
Perhaps most importantly, the move would help Mexico counter some of the contradictions of fighting a drug war led by a country that’s also moving to legalize marijuana itself. “There has been rumbling in Mexico ever since U.S. states like Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. It was an obvious display of hypocrisy to have the leading country on the war on drugs turn around and legalize in its own territory,” Hannah Hetzer from the Drug Policy Alliance told Fusion.
Legalization won’t likely solve Mexico’s drug war problems, but it’s a symbolic measure by a country that has suffered greatly at the expense of U.S. drug policies and consumption.