Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down laws banning the recreational use of marijuana, leading the country towards cannabis legalization even as the country’s congress drags its feet on a legalization bill.
In an 8-3 ruling on Monday, the court ruled that sections of the country’s general health law prohibiting personal consumption and home cultivation of marijuana were unconstitutional.
Adults wishing to grow and consume their own cannabis can apply for permits from the Health Secretariat. Criminal penalties for possession of more than five grams of marijuana or selling drugs remain in effect.
Before Monday’s ruling, adults could apply to the courts for individual injunctions to grow and consume cannabis. The Supreme Court first granted injunctions in 2015 in favor of four plaintiffs seeking injunctions to consume and cultivate marijuana. As courts granted more injunctions, the court declared case law on the matter – and in 2017, the Supreme Court ordered Congress to draft laws to create a legal cannabis market.
But Congress asked the court for extensions, twice arguing that the technical aspects of the bill needed more time and citing the pandemic once. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ruling Morena party – which identifies as left-wing – has held a majority in both chambers since September 2018.
“There is a lack of political will,” said Lisa Sánchez, managing director of the non-governmental group México Unido Contra la Delincuencia.
“This is a step forward for the rights of cannabis consumers,” said Zara Snapp, co-founder of Instituto RIA, a think tank. “But there is still work to be done in Congress to be able to regulate the market in a socially just manner. “
Supporters express hope that the regulations could decrease some of the violence caused by the illegal drug trade in Mexico, although organized crime factions no longer focus on the marijuana trade as they once did, are focusing more on cocaine, synthetic drugs, kidnappings and extortion.
Some observers have expressed skepticism that the decision will change a lot in the short term. Raúl Bejarano, a graduate student studying cannabis regulation, says the cost of the health secretary’s permits should cost less than hiring a lawyer to seek an injunction, but the health secretary could still impose hurdles in the application process.
“This is probably what the current government was looking for,” says Bejarano. “It exempts them from their responsibility to create a regulated market. “