A truce if not an end to the decades-long war on cannabis may have come since the Mexican Supreme Court handed down a ruling that the citizens of Mexico have a constitutional right to grow and distribute marijuana for personal use.
While the November 4 decision does not abolish any laws in Mexico, the legalization of marijuana such as the almost mythic Michoacán variety may not be far off. Currently, Mexico has strict laws prohibiting both the production and consumption of marijuana, even while tons of it are grown there. Mexican military and drug agents frequently make much-heralded raids on producers and exporters, which are followed by photo opportunities when tons of it are burned for the media. Recently, an underground railroad system linking Mexico to the United States was found that cross the international border: a testimony to the ingenuity and resources of Mexico’s drug cartels that export both marijuana, heroin and meth to markets north of the border.
According to the New York Times, the court ruling appears to reflect a “changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories." Furthermore, said the NYT, “Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence [...] With little to show for tough-on-crime policies, the balance appears to be slowly shifting toward other approaches.”
The court’s motion came following the presentation of a petition by the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption (SMART) – a group of marijuana aficionados – and a civic group that calls itself “Mexico United Against Crime.” The SMART group had applied for a license from Mexico’s drug regulatory agency, only to be denied. The court ruled on the group’s appeal of the decision. A plaintiff, Armando Santacruz said of the ruling "We're killing ourselves to stop the production of something that is heading to the U.S., where it's legal."
Observers in question the value of enormous institutional and social costs in enforcing the laws against marijuana.
Evidence shows that the rate mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses is increasing throughout Latin America. In some countries, the number of those incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses is growing faster than the general prison population. Much of that growth is represented by women. "Taken together, the data presented show problems such as the feminization of drug crimes, criminalization and stigmatization of young people, and the large social cost implicit in the use of criminal law and incarceration to address the drug problem," said Mexican Congressman Vidal Llerenas. The Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho (Collective on Drugs and Legal Studies), known as CEDD, which brings together nine Latin American republics, concluded in its report "The most recent information from CEDD shows that the rate of incarcerations for drug-related crimes in the countries studied comes at a time when a regional debate has reinforced the need for exploring alternative policies and, in particular, alternatives to prison. The countries in the region frequently impose severe penalties for minimal crimes or other excessive measures upon the persons who are ranked at the very bottom of the narcotrafficking networks (such as couriers or minor dealers). Based upon this information, CEDD calls for fundamental reform of narcotics laws and its implementation throughout Latin America."
CEDD is an initiative of the leftist Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Transnational Institute.
Writing at the Univision website on November 5, reporter Enrique Acevedo wrote an opinion piece that applauded the court’s decision. “For more than 50 years we have been trapped by the so-called war on drugs. A conflict into which we entered without an exit strategy and one in which, like a dog chasing its own tail, we have tried to prevent a drug from getting into the hands of consumers who are willing to pay whatever necessary to have it. The result? Violence, death, and a global market valuing approximately $300 billion annually tha tis controlled by criminal organizations that have the resources necessary for corruption and financing a wide array of illegal operations that include abduction and human trafficking. Currently, more people use drugs than at any other time in history. The real tragedy has been the insistence of keeping the same strategy instead of accepting that prohibition has become a failure.”
According to the leftist website, Common Dreams, a spokesperson for WOLA approved of the Mexican court ruling. Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow at WOLA said, "Today the Mexican Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that questions the constitutionality of Mexico's strict laws regarding cannabis cultivation and use....While the ruling only applies to the individuals in the group that petitioned the court, it is an important step forward in the reform of Mexico's strict drug laws."