All eyes in the marijuana community recently turned to Canada, where a landmark election could pave the way for legalization north of the border. But events at the other end of North America could lead to widespread change even sooner.
The Mexican Supreme Court is considering a case that questions whether cannabis prohibition violates the national constitution. Specifically, the court will address whether bans on the consumption and personal cultivation of marijuana violate Mexicans’ right to the free development of their individual personalities.
If the court decides that it does, it could mean nationwide legalization of the drug, for both medical and recreational use. The national Congress of the Union would have to pass legislation making legal weed a reality, but a positive decision by the Supreme Court would make that much more likely.
Mexican citizens have suffered the drug war
Mexico stands at a unique place in the drug wars. Its citizens have suffered more than those of any other country as violent criminal cartels have exploited the politics of prohibition to fuel a massive black market in the United States. Over the last eight years, since President Felipe Calderon launched a massive and wrong-headed anti-drug effort, upwards of 100,000 people have died and another 25,000 have disappeared, presumably kidnapped and murdered by traffickers.
Critically, the Supreme Court is reviewing prohibition on human rights grounds. This marks the first time a national government has considered substantial legal reform in response to the violation of individual constitutional rights.
Mexico recently opened the door to medical marijuana, though its MMJ program remains very small. A single patient, an 8-year-old girl with a seizure disorder, was recently granted the right to use pot as medicine, as well as the right to import it.
Limiting free development of one’s own personality
“It is unprecedented for the Supreme Court to introduce a human rights dimension to the debate on drug policy,” said Lisa Sanchez, a Latin American drug policy expert. “If the Court recognizes that the prohibition of marijuana consumption and cultivation for non-commercial purposes limits the right to the free development of one’s personality, it may determine that various articles in the General Health Act are unnecessarily punitive. This could give citizens the possibility to cultivate marijuana for personal use without having to turn to the underground market.”
The Western Hemisphere has become the central battleground for the future of marijuana policy. Four U.S. states have legalized the drug under their laws, though it remains barred under federal statutes. The South American nation of Uruguay has also legalized the drug, though the future of that policy is in doubt.
Medicinal cannabis is legal in Canada and Jamaica, both countries that are also likely to legalize recreational weed in coming years. Canada held national elections in October, and the results – sweeping victory by the long-suffering Liberal Party – spell hope for the future of reform. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has promised to push for full legalization.
Now it’s a race to see whether Canada or Mexico will legalize first. In the meantime, other countries in South and Central America are debating legalization bills, including Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Colombia. But the coming judicial decision in Mexico could mark an especially important moment for cannabis reformers.