In a landmark ruling, a court in Mexico City has said two people should be allowed to use cocaine legally.
The ruling means the unnamed pair can use, but not sell, small amounts of cocaine, according to Mexico United Against Crime (MUCD), an NGO that filed legal papers in the case as part of its strategy to change the country’s drug policy.
This is the first time cocaine use has been made legal in Mexico, but the ruling still needs to be ratified by a higher court.
It comes at a time when Mexico is grappling with its drug policy under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose official development plan for 2019-2024 pledges to reform a “prohibitionist approach” that it calls “unsustainable” due to the “violence and poor public health outcomes” it has generated.
The court ruling orders Mexico’s national health regulator, Cofepris, to authorize two people to legally possess, transport and use cocaine.
However, a Cofepris official told the AFP news agency that such an authorization is outside its remit, and it has blocked the court order as a result.
The order was delivered in May but will now be reviewed by a tribunal, according to AFP.
In a statement, MUCD emphasizes that the ruling will only be enforced if it is upheld by the tribunal, and underlines that it does not legalize cocaine.
The organization said the ruling marks a new stage in the judiciary’s understanding of drugs and offers an opportunity to call for an end to the war on drugs and the redistribution of public resources to fight other crimes.
“We have spent years working for a more secure, just and peaceful Mexico,” said Lisa Sánchez, MUCD’s director.
“This case is about insisting on the need to stop criminalizing users of drugs… and design better public policies that explore all the available options, including regulation.”
Mexico is a major transit point for cocaine en route to the United States, and trafficking gangs have grown in size and power thanks to the vast profits of the trade.
The country’s war on drugs began in 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderón sent in the army to fight traffickers.
According to a 2018 US Congressional Research Service report, “many sources indicate” that about 150,000 intentional homicides in Mexico since 2006 were linked to organized crime.
In 2018, Mexico recorded 33,341 homicides, the highest number since the country began keeping records.
MUCD wants the government to reform drug policy as a way of improving public security and has also campaigned for changes to legislation on marijuana.
In 2017, marijuana was legalized for medical and scientific purposes, and in November 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that a blanket ban on recreational use was unconstitutional, Reuters reports.
That same month, López Obrador’s government submitted a bill that would allow recreational use and create a medical marijuana industry, according to Reuters.
For now, Cofepris grants permits to use marijuana on an individual basis.
Gunther Baumgarten, editor at consultancy firm Latin News and Canning House associate, told CNN that any potential advance through the judicial system is likely to be a slow process.
It took three years for the marijuana case to reach Mexico’s supreme court, and judges could decide cocaine poses too much of a public health risk, he said.
Plus, there is less of an economic incentive to act on cocaine than marijuana.
“In the case of marijuana there is already an international legal market but there is no such thing for cocaine,” said Baumgarten.
And López Obrador could be discouraged after calculating the political risk.
“He might get into some rocky territory,” said Baumgarten, explaining that a majority of Mexicans were against the legalization of marijuana.
“It’s not necessarily popular.”
Baumgarten also said “it’s not clear” whether decriminalizing cocaine use would improve public security, as such a measure wouldn’t affect drug smuggling to the US, which is the main driver of violence.