Mexico’s Supreme Court recently made history by legalizing recreational cannabis. On October 31st, 2018, in a 4-1 ruling, the Supreme Court voted in favor of overturning the country’s long held ban on recreational marijuana use.  Medical cannabis became legal in Mexico only recently, in June of 2017. Once cannabis becomes recreationally legal in Mexico, the United States will be the only country in North America to continue criminalizing marijuana use.

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Mexican Recreational Cannabis

The process of declaring a law unconstitutional in Mexico is somewhat different from the way things work here in the United States. In Mexico, five consecutive rulings on the same issue are needed in order to establish a basis for overturning a law. The court’s decision to make adult cannabis use legal in Mexico came as part of two rulings on the part of separate plaintiffs, both applications for “amparo,” or constitutional protection, in order to either produce or consume cannabis for recreational purposes. As a result of both cases, the Supreme Court ultimately found that the existing ban on recreational cannabis use is unconstitutional.

Recreational cannabis is legal in Mexico iStock / Angela Bulatovic

Changes in cannabis legislature have been in the works for a while now; in 2009, Mexico decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis (and several other drugs, as well). Now that the Supreme Court has voted in support of cannabis legalization, the next step is for the Mexican Congress to attempt to reform the existing legislation regarding cannabis such that the law would no longer be found unconstitutional.

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The implications of legalizing recreational cannabis use across Mexico are huge. Once legal, medical patients will have much greater access, and that’s not all. According to Froylán Encisco, a scientist studying drug policy out of Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (Center of Investigation and Economic Studies),

“The rulings pave the way for adults to use marijuana in any way they see fit. We aren’t just talking about recreational use. The court has found that marijuana can be used for rituals, for recreational use, for medical use, at work, for scientific investigations. For any adult use and that it cannot be penalized.”

In addition to making medical and recreational use legal for adult use, the Supreme Court ruling could have significant consequences for those who are currently being incarcerated for low-level cannabis possession.

“The Mexican government has not put violent criminals in prison but people who smoke small quantities on street corners or outside, so these decisions will benefit many small consumers,” says Encisco.

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Moreover, according to proponents of legalization, lifting the ban on cannabis could even weaken the power of the drug cartels in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the war on drugs in Mexico; an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the last decade alone.

Said Laura Carlsen, Director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.

“When people have legal, regulated places to buy marijuana, it takes the whole business out of the hands of organized crime. Marijuana is a huge chunk of cartel income. Without that income there is an automatic reduction in their capacity to buy weapons, recruit teens, bribe politicians.”