Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday night that he “respects and accepts” a Supreme Court panel’s ruling that opens the door for the legalization of marijuana use for recreational purposes.
In a statement issued hours after the decision was handed down, Peña Nieto predicted that the ruling would spark a new national debate on legalization, but stopped short of saying whether his government would make any major reforms to the country’s anti-drug laws.
Growing, distributing and commercial transactions continue to be crimes” Government lawyer Humberto Castillejos
In a historic 4-1 vote, the Supreme Court’s First Criminal Chamber agreed to allow a cannabis club to grow, transport and consume marijuana for its members’ own recreational use. But the group will not be allowed to sell the drug.
“This is not a criminal matter, but a matter of a way of life and a person’s individual liberties,” said Supreme Court Justice Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero, who voted in favor of the resolution presented by her colleague Arturo Zaldívar.
The decision means Mexico joins a host of Latin American nations that have lifted restrictions on marijuana possession. In 2013, Uruguay decriminalized marijuana after a long and fierce debate by lawmakers.
“The ruling only affects the four people who filed the lawsuit, so for that reason, there will be no changes to policies against organized crime and the sale of narcotics,” said Peña Nieto administration spokesman Eduardo Sánchez after the president’s statement.
Nevertheless, the decision will give legal backing to other individuals and cannabis clubs to apply for government licenses to grow and use marijuana for recreational purposes, while at the same time raising questions about whether drug-use reforms could help push down the country’s runaway crime rates.
The plaintiffs and others who advocate changes to marijuana laws want the government to rethink the military anti-drug offensives initiated by previous president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), which they say have cost an estimated 100,000 lives and led to the disappearance of 20,000 others.
“We are four people, but we represent 120 million Mexicans,” said Juan Torres Landa, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit during a news conference. “It is now time for prohibition to go. We don’t need debates, we need actions, and we have already put the first nail in the coffin.”
Landa, along with Josefina Riaño, Pablo Girault and Armando Santacruz, filed the suit through their group, the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use, known by its Spanish acronym as SMART.
SMART, which was founded in 2013, advocates for Mexican adults to be able to choose whether they want to consume marijuana without government interference.
“The ruling only affects the four people who asked for protection,” said government lawyer Humberto Castillejos. “Growing, distributing and commercial transactions continue to be crimes. Marijuana has not been legalized.”
We don’t need debates, we need actions, and it is now time for prohibition to go” Plaintiff Juan Torres Landa
In 2009, the government lifted penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But experts believe that these amounts allowed by law are so insignificant that many people are still charged with possession.
But the Supreme Court panel’s new ruling, which is expected to be reviewed before the full criminal chamber bench, has the support of many opposition members.
Mexico City’s high-profile leftist Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera believes that lawmakers should be debating the issue soon, while former first lady Margarita Zavala, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and a 2018 presidential hopeful, wants a national referendum on the issue.
In a poll taken by Mexican lawmakers last year, 70 percent of those who responded said they were against legalization.
Mancera’s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) supports changes to marijuana laws.
Many members of both Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and leftist grouping Morena, which is headed by ex-presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have called for a referendum as proposed by Zavala.
But her PAN party’s official position is to present the issue before lawmakers for national debate.
English edition by Martin Delfín.