Mexican Supreme Court opens door to legalizing marijuana

Story highlights

Mexican Supreme Court allows four people to use and grow recreational marijuana

President Enrique Peña Nieto recognizes and respects court ruling

"This vote by Mexico's Supreme Court is extraordinary," U.S.-based group says

CNN  — 

The Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled to allow a small group to use recreational marijuana legally, opening the door to nationwide legalization and a potential new front in a drug war whose violence has devastated the country.

The 4-1 decision allows four representatives of a group to plant, transport and smoke marijuana for recreational use and declared unconstitutional five articles of a health act that banned the use and cultivation of the drug.

The group, known as Smart by its Spanish acronym, argued before the court that the current drug policy has been ineffective and regressive, and it also interferes with the private lives of individuals.

The group also argued that there’s no evidence that regulation of legalized pot would increase drug use and violence. In fact, the opposite may occur, the group argued.

The court ruling, which applies only to the four individuals seeking protection, said the prohibition of recreational marijuana can affect personal freedom. Those individuals are Josefina Ricaño, Armando Santacruz, José Pablo Girault and Juan Francisco Torres Landa Ruffo, all of the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart), or the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption.

The Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent and puts the issue before the legislative and executive branches for further study, said Lisa Sanchez, director of the nongovernmental organization Mexico United Against Crime, whose members helped form Smart.

The ruling shows there “exists an excessive, intrusive and unnecessary prohibition” against recreational marijuana, Sanchez said.

“It’s a paradigm shift with newly expanded liberties and rights,” Sanchez told CNN en Español.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has opposed the legalization of drugs. His country has waged war against drugs and drug-dealing cartels that have left tens of thousands of people dead or missing. The United States has long backed the Mexican government’s battle against drug cartels, whose illegal product ends up for sale and consumption on American streets.

But on Wednesday, the Mexican President took to Twitter, saying he respected and recognized the court decision on recreational marijuana and added the court ruling opens a debate on what is the best form of regulation to inhibit drug use.

“Mexico has promoted in international forums, including the U.N., a broad discussion to address the global challenge of drugs,” Peña tweeted.

Mexico recently decriminalized the possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana and a half gram of cocaine, but their production and distribution has remained illegal.

The U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance, which asserts the drug war does more harm than good, called the Mexican court ruling “a landmark case” that could lead to the legalization of marijuana in Mexico if legislation is passed.

“This vote by Mexico’s Supreme Court is extraordinary for two reasons: It is being argued on human rights grounds and it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs,” Hannah Hetzer, a senior policy manager at the alliance, said in a statement.

According to the alliance, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana in December 2013, and Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have promised to legalize marijuana. Medical marijuana legalization bills are being debated in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, the group said.

CNN Mexico and Elwyn Lopez contributed to this report.