Four Mexican citizens are now legally permitted to grow and use marijuana, marking the biggest break yet in the country’s long history of stringent anti-drug laws.
National health authorities issued the first four permits to grow and smoke cannabis in December. The permits went to four individuals, plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit, though they all said they have no plans to use them.
The permits are limited exclusively to these four people, who sued the government over its anti-narcotics laws. The Mexican Supreme Court issued a ruling last month that weakens those laws and opens the door to full legalization of marijuana.
The four plaintiffs sued because they want to force the country to legalize the drug. They’re each members of a group called Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use (SMART), and they say legalization would cut down on Mexico’s notorious drug violence.
Anti-marijuana policy has come at a large cost
We didn’t do this to get the right (to consume) for ourselves, but to change a public policy that has been extremely costly for the country,” said Armando Santacruz, an accountant and one of the four.
But now that the permits have been issued, the nation is starting down a road that is likely to lead to full reform, sooner or later. The Mexican National Congress of the Union must still act to strike down the anti-cannabis statutes, but the ruling by the Supreme Court makes that much more likely.
That decision has led other Mexicans to apply for similar marijuana permits. At the same time, lawmakers and President Pena Nieto are being forced to talk about the possibility of legalization, in the open. There has never been a more vibrant discussion about reform in the country’s history.
Legalization now being publicly discussed
“The goal is to change the policy, not to promote consumption,” said Juan Francisco Torres Landa, a lawyer and another of the four people. “We will set an example and we will not consume because we have enough information to take a responsible decision. But it will be based on our own conviction, not on threats from the state.”
Cofepris, a government health watchdog, stressed in a press release that marijuana “is still an illegal substance” and it is still a crime to grow or sell it. But the new permits grant the foursome the right to “sow, grow, harvest, prepare, possess, transport, and consume marijuana for recreational uses,” according to Cofepris.
The law does not, however, give them the right to sell the drug or use it in front of minors, pregnant women, “or people who do not give their consent.” As in the United States, those rules could effectively ban all public toking.
More Mexicans applying for permits
More than 150 additional people applied for permits following the court ruling, all seeking the same right to grow and use cannabis for either medicine or recreation. Patricio Caso, who heads Cofepris, said those applications will probably be rejected under existing law.
But like the four current permit holders, these people are mostly trying to push a political case. They ultimately hope to overturn marijuana prohibition through these permits. Most, Caso said, are primarily concerned with reform.
Most Mexicans still oppose legalization, according to recent polls. One, released just after the court decision, found more than 65 percent are against full cannabis reform. But the issue has been moved to the front burner: Pena Nieto, who openly opposes legalization, has called a group of experts to join lawmakers in debating the issue across the country between January and March. And the Congress could soon pass laws allowing patients to import and use the drug as medicine.