A landmark Supreme Court ruling contradicting Mexican law opens the door to the legalization of marijuana.
By four votes to one, the court’s first chamber approved the cultivation, processing and possession of cannabis for personal use. However, the ruling will only apply to four activists – Josefina Ricaño Vàndala, Armando Santacruz González, José Pablo Girault and Juan Francisco Torres Landa Ruffo – who challenged the law by applying to set up a marijuana club in 2013 for recreational, non-commercial use.
They will now be able to proceed with their plans – knowing full well that in doing so they have successfully used the legal system to undermine the law against cannabis use.
However, the government stressed that the court ruling does not mean that anyone else is now free to cultivate cannabis for personal consumption and that the General Health Law outlawing marijuana still applies to others.
“The ruling will only apply to the persons it protects – the resolution of the first chamber does not legalize the supply or sale [of cannabis],” said Humberto Castellejos, legal counsel in the office of the president. “Growing it with any other objective, even for recreation, is a crime according to the law.”
Nevertheless, campaigners for legalization including the four activists who challenged the law, are optimistic that the ruling will pave the way for an eventual dismantling of Mexico’s strict marijuana laws.
“This is a tremendously powerful decision that could open the way for real change,” said Santacruz Gonzàlez. “We’ve made history. It’s the first hole in the dike.”
The ruling is the first of its kind and establishes a precedent for similar cases in future. Four more like it would establish jurisprudence and require the federal government to change Mexico’s cannabis laws.
Another legalization campaigner, Hector Aguilar Camín, also welcomed the ruling. “This is a watershed decision; we have to start separating the substance from the hell produced by its persecution,” he said in reference to Mexico’s drug wars, which have killed thousands of people.
“Our objective was always to change drug policy in this country, which is one of the main motors for the violence, corruption and the violation of human rights in Mexico,” said Santacruz Gonzàlez.
Mexican law permits possession of up to five grams of cannabis, but activists say this is a halfway measure as few users buy such small amounts.
Despite the media coverage the case has garnered, and the estimated US $1.5 billion a year marijuana generates for the criminal cartels that produce and traffic it, cannabis use in Mexico is believed to be low – about 2% of the population according to one estimate in 2011.
Moreover, a recent poll put the number of Mexicans in favor of legalizing it at just one in five, as opposed to 77% who opposed such a measure.
Supreme Court Judge Arturo Zaldivar, who proposed the ruling, based his argument on the human right to “personal development” and recreation that did not harm others. However, Zaldivar’s 88-page report did not make any reference to cannabis seeds, an omission cited by the one judge who opposed the ruling, Jorge Mario Pardo Rebolledo.
“How does one guarantee the right to exercise consumer rights. Where are they going to get the seeds from?” he asked, suggesting that the four activists would still be breaking the law by seeking to acquire cannabis seeds to facilitate personal cultivation.