MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s Supreme Court opened the door to recreational use of marijuana in a landmark ruling Wednesday, giving a group of activists permission to grow and smoke their own pot.
The justices voted 4-1 in favor of the bid by the four members of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use, whose Spanish acronym spells “SMART”.
Justice Arturo Zaldivar, who backed the group’s effort, said the country’s marijuana prohibition is an “extreme” and “disproportionate” measure.
The vote allows SMART to produce and consume its own pot, but not sell it.
“We won!” exclaimed Francisco Torres Landa, a 50-year-old lawyer and SMART member, after the ruling.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said his government “respects and recognizes” the decision, which “will open a debate on what is the best regulation to prevent the use of drugs, a public health issue.”
“Mexico has promoted in international forums, including the UN, a broad discussion to confront the global challenge of drugs,” he wrote on Twitter.
Pena Nieto, who has opposed the legalization of drugs, said he ordered health officials to explain the ruling to the population.
Health Minister Mercedes Juan Lopez stressed that the ruling was limited to the four members of SMART.
Nevertheless, she said her ministry will now have to draft new regulations to ensure the health of non-pot smokers and children is protected. The government will also have to look at terms for importing seeds.
“From our point of view, this definitely does not mean the legalization of marijuana. It is just a ruling for these four people to consume” marijuana, she told Foro TV.
Supporters say the ruling opens the door for others to seek a similar decision from the court.
The SMART members themselves — two lawyers, an accountant and a social activist — say they do not even plan to grow and smoke pot.
Rather, the activists wanted to force Mexico’s Congress to open a debate about legalizing marijuana.
SMART says legalizing pot would strip drug cartels of a major source of revenue and help curb the runaway violence that has plagued the country for a decade.
Pena Nieto, who took office in December 2012, has pressed on with his predecessor’s controversial strategy of using troops to go after cartels.
“This is not for the four of us,” SMART member Torres Landa told AFP, saying the goal was to “break” the government’s marijuana prohibition.
Mexico ‘not ready for this’
The judge who voted against, Jorge Mario Pardo, argued that the ruling could not work because it does not address the ban against obtaining the seeds to grow marijuana.
“Mexico has many problems to resolve. It’s not ready for this,” said Consuelo Mendoza, president of the National Union of Parents, who took part in an anti-marijuana protest outside the court.
SMART took its case to the courts in 2013 after the government’s health regulator, Cofepris, denied its request for permission to produce and consume its own marijuana for recreational use.
Legalization has caught on in other parts of Latin America.
Uruguay has created a regulated market for pot, while Chile’s Congress is debating a law to legalize its recreational and medical use.
In the United States — the biggest consumer of drugs from Mexico — 23 US states and the capital Washington, D.C. now allow medical marijuana, and four others plus the US capital have legalized pot for recreational use.
While Mexico’s government has opposed the legalization of drugs, health authorities granted an exception last month for an eight-year-old girl suffering from severe epilepsy.
The girl, Grace, took her first treatment of a cannabis-based oil last month, which her parents hope will reduce the 400 epileptic fits she endures each day.