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Feature 110915 InSight Crime

Monday, November 9, 2015

Is the Legalizing of Marijuana a Fait Accompli in Mexico?

By Michael LaSusa (InSight Crime)

A ruling by Mexico's Supreme Court will allow four individuals to grow and possess marijuana for personal consumption, setting a legal precedent for further challenges to the country's laws banning production and distribution of the drug.

The November 4 decision only applies to the four activists from the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use (SMART, by its Spanish acronym) who initiated the case. The ruling leaves intact the prohibition on the production and sale of marijuana for commercial purposes. However, it represents a significant step away from the prohibitionist policies that Mexico has pursued in the past.

Fabian Aguinaco, a lawyer for SMART, told Time magazine that the ruling could eventually lead to similar cases that could end criminal penalties surrounding the marijuana trade. "This is like when you make a hole in a well. All the water pours out," Aguinaco said.

Mexico ended criminal penalties for recreational drug consumption and the possession of less than five grams of marijuana in 2009. However, moves toward further decriminalization have not come without controversy. Recent studies have shown that a majority of Mexicans oppose legalizing the drug for recreational purposes.

No political parties have made a point of vocally opposing legalization, according to El Pais; yet only the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has advocated ending the "punitive paradigm" surrounding the drug. Other prominent figures have called for a debate about current drug policy. President Enrique Peña Nieto said he will respect the Supreme Court's decision, but he and other government officials emphasized its limited scope and the need for programs to educate the public about the risks of marijuana use.

InSight Crime Analysis

Given the narrow scope of the latest ruling, its immediate impact on the Mexican marijuana trade will be minimal. As El Daily Post puts it, this is mostly a symbolic victory for reformers. However, further steps towards decriminalization within Mexico could eventually increase consumption within the country. Some criminal groups could see an opportunity there, although it is also possible that they will be unable to compete if Mexico successfully creates a legal market. 

See also: Mexico News and Profiles

While criticism of prohibitionist drug policy has been mounting recently, marijuana decriminalization could have unintended impacts when it comes to organized crime. In Mexico, where the marijuana trade is controlled by violent crime groups, removing criminal penalties for the production and distribution of the drug without establishing adequate countermeasures in terms of regulation and public health programs could provide a dangerous boon for the underworld.

Mexico's criminal groups have previously demonstrated their ability to adapt to changes in the market, reportedly in response to decriminalization efforts in the United States. As InSight Crime has previously reported, Mexican groups appear to be seeking to improve the quality of the marijuana they produce, in order to compete with more sophisticated marijuana growing operations in the United States.

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This commentary, "What Next, After Mexico Marijuana Reforms?" was first published in InSight Crime, on Nov. 5, 2015 and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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