Mexico’s supreme court has struck down laws prohibiting the use of recreational marijuana, moving the country toward cannabis legalisation even as the country’s congress drags its feet on a legalisation bill.
In an 8-3 decision on Monday, the high court ruled that sections of the country’s general health law prohibiting personal consumption and home cultivation of marijuana were unconstitutional.
Adults wanting to cultivate and consume their own cannabis will be able to apply for permits from the health secretariat. Criminal penalties for possessing more than five grammes of marijuana or selling the drug remain in place.
Prior to Monday’s decision, adults could petition courts for individual injunctions to grow and consume cannabis. The supreme court first granted injunctions in 2015 in favour of four applicants seeking injunctions to consume and grow marijuana. As courts granted more injunctions, the high court declared jurisprudence on the issue – and in 2017, the supreme court ordered congress to draft laws for creating a legal cannabis market.
But congress has asked the court for extensions, twice arguing that technical aspects of the bill required more time and once citing the pandemic. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ruling Morena party – which identifies as left-leaning – has held majorities in both houses since September 2018.
“There’s a lack of political will,” said Lisa Sánchez, director general of the non-governmental group México Unido Contra la Delincuencia.
“This is a step forward for the rights of cannabis users,” said Zara Snapp, co-founder of Instituto RIA, 'n dun tenk. “But there’s still work to be done in congress to be able to regulate the market in a socially just way.”
Proponents express hopes regulation could diminish some of the violence caused by Mexico’s illegal drugs trade, although organised crime factions no longer focus on marijuana trade as they once did, having shifted their focus to cocaine, synthetic drugs, kidnapping and extortion.
Some observers expressed skepticism that the ruling will change much in the short-term. Raúl Bejarano, a graduate student studying cannabis regulation, says the cost of permits from the health secretary should cost less than hiring a lawyer to seek an injunction, but the health secretariat could still impose barriers in the application process.
“This is probably what the present government was looking for,” says Bejarano. “It exempts them from their responsibility of creating a regulated market.”