Mexican Marijuana Laws: Change Is Here/Coming

There has been a tidal shift in Mexico. The weight of political power and public opinion remains opposed to marijuana legalization there, but in a recent decision (the Amparo Case) the Mexican Supreme Court created an imperative for marijuana reform. Here’s why this case is so important for marijuana legalization in Mexico and around the world:

Mexican marijuana. Its time has come.
Mexican marijuana. Its time has come.

Imperative to Reform Marijuana Laws. First, though the ruling in the Amparo case technically applies only to its four plaintiffs, the decision essentially requires the Mexican government to reform its drug laws.

The decision granted relief to four individual plaintiffs from Mexico’s marijuana laws, giving them the right to grow and consume recreational marijuana. For now, that decision only applies to the four plaintiffs, all of whom are high ranking members of two advocacy groups which aim to combat organized crime in Mexico. It bears mentioning that plaintiffs brought this case in an effort to help take down organized crime, which makes roughly 35-40% of its annual $1.5 billion profits on the illegal marijuana market.

Regardless of the case’s limitations, the Mexican Supreme Court has the power to legalize recreational marijuana throughout the country in later cases if it so chooses. It used a similar process earlier this year to legalize gay marriage in Mexico. If the Mexican government fails to reform its drug laws, the Supreme Court is positioned to legalize marijuana throughout the country without the permission of either the president or the legislature. This means that if these branches of the Mexican government do not start implementing cannabis reform, we may be seeing full blown legalization from the Mexican Supreme Court before too long.

Recreational Marijuana as a Human Right. In this case, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that recreational marijuana use is protected as a human right to develop one’s “personality”. The right to the development of personality is tied up in human dignity; it is essentially the belief that each human being has the innate right to make his or her own decisions. It is the fundamental belief behind American values of freedom and liberty, and it is the foundation of modern liberal democracies. Most importantly for the Amparo case, this human right is enshrined in Mexico’s Constitution:

The choice of a recreational or leisure activity is a decision that undoubtedly belongs to the sphere of personal autonomy protected by the Constitution. That choice may include, as in this case, the intake or consumption of substances that produce experiences that in some way “affect” the thoughts, emotions and / or feelings of the person. In this line, the decision to smoke marijuana can have different purposes, including “the relief of stress, the intensification of perceptions or include the desire for new personal and spiritual experiences.” So, being “mental experiences”, they are among the most personal and intimate that anyone can experience, so that the decision of an individual of senior age to “affect” his personality in this way for recreational or entertainment purposes is covered under for the right to free development of personality.”

When it comes to international marijuana legalization in democratic nations, this case could well prove critically important beyond just Mexico; it is precedent from the highest court in a major country stating that there is a human right to the recreationally use marijuana. It also creates a new argument for international treaty discussions, like the U.N. Special Session on Drugs next year. We’ve previously written about how international drug treaties restrict cannabis legalization, but most of the countries that are parties to these international drug treaties are also party to human rights treaties. If the recreational use of marijuana is a human right, those treaties are now in conflict, meaning something will eventually need to be done to reconcile them.

This case is also important for the simple reason that the Court actually rationally analyzed the country’s marijuana laws. The Court points out that drug laws are usually judged solely upon whether they reduce consumption, but that they should be looked at more holistically with an eye towards protection of the public:

This Supreme Court finds that the prohibitory rules cannot be considered unconstitutional simply for being ineffective in motivating the behavior of people. The reduction in consumption can not be considered an end in itself of the measure itself, but in any case a state of affairs which is a means or an intermediate in order to achieve a further purpose, such as the protection of public health or public order.

The Court then notes that scientific evidence does not show that marijuana use in adults poses a significant risk to health except when used chronically and excessively. It also notes that claims of marijuana being a gateway drug have been debunked. The Court goes on to point out that Mexico’s current marijuana prohibition has done little if anything to reduce marijuana use and trade. Marijuana remains ubiquitous, use has actually increased since prohibition, and, in the meantime, murderous and lawless drug cartels are reaping the profits from the black market. The Court also compared Mexico’s cannabis laws to reasonable, better alternatives, such as its laws for tobacco and alcohol and, not surprisingly, found Mexico’s cannabis laws to be lacking.

As attorneys, we are heartened by the Mexican Supreme Court’s logical conclusions. As lawyers we are trained to compare like with like and when one looks at how alcohol and cigarettes, and even Diet Coke, are treated by our legal system, it is difficult from a legal perspective to understand why cannabis is the outlier. And Mexico’s Supreme Court agrees.

Cultivating or consuming marijuana remain illegal in Mexico, but with this Mexican Supreme Court decision the tides have finally begun to turn. Don’t be surprised if we hear more news out of Mexico on marijuana law reform in the near future.