“Recreational Cannabis Bans Unconstitutional” Says Mexico’s Supreme Court—But Don’t Light Up Just Yet

Written by BlackbirdGo November 13, 2018
The History

Could Mexico be on the road to nationwide cannabis legalization?

That is the question on the minds of Mexican nationals and observers around the world, as the federal republic’s Supreme Court ruled, on October 31, 2018, that the total prohibition of recreational cannabis consumption was unconstitutional.

The ruling, which is the fifth such decision from the United Mexican States’ highest court, is said to establish jurisprudence in favor of recreational cannabis usage that may portend a liberal turn in the nation’s stance on cannabis. Such a shift could dramatically impact Mexico’s culture and economy, depending on how related legislation was crafted and rolled out. However, it should be noted that, while Mexican nationals have seemingly been given carte blanche to consume cannabis, the cannabis industry is not yet freed of its legal restrictions. In fact, various hurdles remain.

The new supreme court ruling does not explicitly “legalize” cannabis; unlike Uruguay (which federally legalized cannabis consumption, possession, and commercialization in 2013) and Canada (whose legislative bodies exercised a limited-for-now legalization of commercial and recreational use of cannabis that began in mid-October), the law of the land in Mexico still forbids the commercialization of cannabis products. That means that people are allowed to consume cannabis recreationally, but when it comes to selling product or even growing it, things get more complicated.

As the law is currently understood, individuals standing on Mexican soil are not permitted to generate income from cannabis and are not allowed to cultivate cannabis with the intent to sell. People are permitted to grow cannabis for their personal use under this jurisprudence, but, in order to do so, would-be agriculturists must submit applications expressing their intent to engage in “personal growth” to Mexico’s Federal Committee for Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS), who may process, approve, or deny such applications at their own discretion. At the moment, the process remains somewhat nebulous, in part because the legal philosophy established by the court’s decision does not establish a protocol for the execution of that philosophy. That responsibility falls with Mexico’s legislators and executive branch.

Essentially, while people are technically allowed to enjoy cannabis recreationally, they have to ask first, someone has to approve it, and it's not entirely clear how all of this is feasible across the nation. Whether or not that technical reality will result in confusion or the uneven execution depends on what actions are taken by the United Mexican States’ incoming administration, who will be tasked with developing regulations pertinent to the Supreme Court’s latest ruling. Ideally (at least for those in support of a liberal turn for recreational cannabis), the new administration would establish laws that simplify (or eliminate) the approval process for recreational cannabis consumption and growth; in a “more perfect” scenario, the new federal administration could establish regulations that bolster the Mexican economy while accounting for the health, safety, and legal protection of the nation’s citizens.

Of course, incoming Mexican president Andres Obrador’s administration could also decide that they disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling and attempt to craft legislation in opposition to it. While such an attempt would likely be ruled unconstitutional, it would also result in a protracted legal battle that would further mire Mexican cannabis consumers and producers in legal limbo.

That being said, officials associated with the President-Elect Obrador’s administration have signaled that they are in agreement with the Supreme Court’s decision and that they are “determined to quickly bring the end of marijuana prohibition as a means to fight poverty and crime”.

Further, the incoming administration’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, expressed that Mexico “could absolutely follow Canada’s example” in legalizing cannabis, although he pointed out that he felt legalization was an “interesting short term” idea, perhaps alluding to the fact that, following legalization, significant legal thought, studies, and more sophisticated legislation would need to be pursued in order to create a system that meaningfully addressed poverty, crime, health and safety—a reality that the newly recreational cannabis-friendly Canadian provinces are reckoning with in the wake of their own cannabis referendum.

It is not clear whether Mexico’s incoming administration is interested in legalizing the commercialization of cannabis—at this moment, where this legislation is concerned, the priority is doing away with unnecessary drug-related punishments for the use of a substance to which populations are warming worldwide.

Should Mexico follow in Canada and Uruguay’s legalizing footsteps, it could have an unpredictable effect on the nation’s ongoing war on drugs, possibly contributing to greater stability in the region. It could also have meaningful impact on Mexico’s northern neighbors the United States, who would then be the only nation on the continent where cannabis is federally prohibited (but permitted for medical or recreational use in a growing number of states). In that case, the U.S. could quickly fall behind Canada and Mexico, in terms of both the economies and scientific research related to cannabis.

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.