Mexico's Supreme Court Strikes Down Recreational Marijuana Ban

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Mexico's Supreme Court Strikes Down Recreational Marijuana Ban

By Paul Gaita 11/13/18

Though limited in scope, the decision was considered a victory for pro-cannabis groups.

Image: 
judge holds gavel in hand after recreational marijuana ban decision

Lawmakers in Mexico opened a door to marijuana legalization by declaring an absolute ban on recreational use a violation of constitutional rights.

The country's top court declared on October 31 that it had found in favor of two amparos (or legal injunctions) against the ban, which when added to three previous challenges, resulting in the five amparos required to change national law.

The country's top court ruled in all five cases that the "effects caused by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition on its consumption."

Though limited in scope, the decision was considered a victory for pro-cannabis groups, and was soon followed by legislation submitted to Congress that would legalize recreational marijuana use in the country.

The Mexican government has maintained a hardline stance towards marijuana legalization for decades. Senator Olga Sanchez, who is President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador's choice for interior minister and the author of the legalization bill, suggested that this approach can be considered a contributing factor in the deaths of more than 230,000 individuals in Mexico, victims of the country's decades-long war against drug cartels. 

The first significant effort towards legalization came with the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling, which allowed eight-year-old Graciela Elizalde to use cannabis as treatment for a severe form of epilepsy.

The second amparo came the same year, when the court granted four members of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Self-Consumption the right to grow, transport and use marijuana. Medical marijuana was approved in the country in 2017, though health professionals are only allowed to prescribe cannabis oil with less than 1% THC.

Pro-cannabis groups marshaled their forces to present three more legal challenges, and passed one before ruling on the final two on October 31 and establishing jurisprudence. In its statement, the Supreme Court noted that its decision did not allow for unrestricted or unregulated use of marijuana; more importantly, the ruling only allowed those individuals that filed the legal challenges to cultivate and consume marijuana. 

Senator Sanchez's bill, submitted this week, proposes that licensed companies could grow and sell marijuana, and individuals would be allowed to grow plants for private use—though in the latter case, approximately one pound would be allowed per year.

Exactly what form the bill will take once it is passed into the hands of Mexico's Congress remains unclear, but Supreme Court Judge Arturo Zaldlívar said that the move towards legalization is inevitable.

"The world is going in that direction," he said. "I think that when we announced the first approval of cannabis amparo, it was very polemic, very controversial. But time and history are proving that we were right, fortunately."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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