Marijuana: Mexico’s high court rules recreational use a human right

Mexico's court ruled that growing, possessing and smoking marijuana for recreation are legal under a person's right to personal freedoms. (Credit: AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting the possession, production and consumption marijuana is unconstitutional. National laws against producing and consuming marijuana, the court said, violate the human right to the free development of one’s personality. The landmark decision on Nov. 4 opened the door to the eventual nationwide legalization of recreational marijuana.

The ruling only applies to the four members of Mexicans United for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption (or SMART, in Spanish), who are remarkably now the only people in a country of 125 million who can legally smoke pot, according to the Washington Post.

In order for marijuana to become legal nationwide, the Supreme Court would have to deliver similar rulings at least four more times – the same process by which same-sex marriage was legalized in Mexico earlier this year. Another route to legalization, reports the Atlantic, is for the national legislature to legalize marijuana of its own accord.

Although it is still early to predict any federal legislations with certainty, many now expect the legalization process to pick up speed. According to former President Vicente Fox, marijuana – along with cocaine, heroin, crystal meth and all other drugs – will be legalized in Mexico within the next decade.

“I think marijuana [legalization]is a first step,” Fox said to Reuters in an interview last week. “The other drugs will take a longer cycle, say five to 10 years.”

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Fox was elected president in 2000 and became an advocate of legalizing drugs after leaving office in 2006.

Although SMART’s case went through several courts before reaching the highest court in Mexico, according to Brietbart, the plaintiffs’ argument quickly captured attention: that prohibiting people from using marijuana deprives them of freely developing a personality, violating the constitutional right to a dignified life with personal freedoms.

SMART’s lawyer Andres Aguinaco said Mexico’s 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, reported Fusion, as long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ rights.

“The state cannot prohibit you from eating a bunch of tacos because it’s bad for your health.” Andres Aguinaco, Plaintiffs’ attorney

The court’s decision has been widely recognized as momentous for Mexico, where warring gangs have waged over a decade of drug-related violence.

“This debate in Mexico’s Supreme Court is extraordinary for two reasons: because it is being argued on human rights grounds, and because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs,” said Hannah Hetzer, senior policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Since advocates for weed legalization typically use the argument that outlawing marijuana results in unnecessary and excessive jail time for violators, the Supreme Court’s decision – based on fundamental human rights – sets a new precedent for other lawmakers in Central America and worldwide.

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“Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana, Canada is expected soon to follow suit, medical marijuana initiatives are spreading throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and marijuana is legal in a number of U.S. states,” said Hetzer.

“Now with this landmark decision out of Mexico, it is clear that the Americas are leading the world in marijuana reform.”

This monumental drug movement in the Americas also pressures the United Nations to change its policies in their upcoming session on the world drug problem, according to the Washington Post.

If this doesn’t happen, argues Hetzer, “more nations will move ahead unilaterally and then the conventions start to become irrelevant, and nobody wants that.”

The ruling does not make marijuana legal in commercial enterprises, like the pot shops that exist in Colorado and Washington. It does, however, set the foundation for lawmakers to consider the right to use marijuana as a fundamental human right. And with countries like Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica currently debating whether to reform of their own marijuana laws, it seems more than likely that Mexico is just one step ahead of the Latin American movement toward legalization.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com