It started with Uruguay in 2013, then came Canada in June 2018. This was followed by a recreational legalization in Georgia in July 2018, and now by Mexico in 2021. Though the US and Australia both boast legal locations, Mexico is now the 4th legalized country to allow recreational cannabis use nationwide.
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The mess: how Mexico became a legalized country
In order to understand what just happened, and how it impacts life in Mexico, it helps to understand the recent history that led up to it. The legalization process began at the end of 2018 when a fifth consecutive Supreme Court ruling was made in support of defendants and their use of recreational cannabis. In Mexico, jurisprudencia kicks in when the supreme court makes five consecutive rulings on any matter, in the same way. That ruling becomes binding for all lower courts, essentially setting law that the legislative section of government must catch up with to stay in concert with the courts.
The Supreme Court rulings started in 2015 with a case against The Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Self-Consumption. They ended in October 2018 with two cases that got ruled on in the same month, both about the ability for an adult to use cannabis recreationally. The court found that personally developed human beings must be allowed to choose their own recreational activities without the interference of government. It is stipulated in the Mexican constitution that personal development is a given freedom of the Mexican people.
All this enacted jurisprdencia, thereby ending the ability for lower courts to find an individual guilty of personal possession, use, and cultivation crimes. However, the Court ruling itself only stipulated that cannabis prohibition is unconstitutional, the Court doesn’t set up criminal penalties or regulated markets. This is done by legislation in Congress. Once the Supreme Court made the final ruling to end prohibition, the ball went to Congress’s court to pass an actual law with fundamentals.
Of course, if you’ve been following along, you know this didn’t happen. In fact, four times the government failed to do its duty, continuously asking for extensions until it missed its most recent deadline of April 30th 2021. The initial period of time given to the government to fulfill its duty, was one year. At the end of 2019, Congress was granted its first extension. This was followed by a second in April, 2020, and a third extension on December 15th, 2020.
This time around, when it came to the most recent due date on April 30th, Congress did not submit a bill, nor did it ask the Supreme Court for an extension. This threw the ball back to the Supreme Court’s court, and allowed the Supreme Court the ability to officially end prohibition without any confirmed laws on the books. This end of prohibition invalidates the laws that are stated, concerning any parts that have been changed by the new update, but it doesn’t go any deeper in terms of setting up regulated systems.
What did the court actually do?
After repeatedly allowing extensions for Congress, an essential stalemate was reached. The government seemingly doesn’t want to pass anything, and the reasons for this are debatable. Personally, I think it’s fear. Cannabis is a huge narco industry and the idea of that changing is kind of silly. Cartels aren’t likely to give up their hold on this business, and that could mean potential danger for politicians who take a side, or go up against the wrong entity. This might not be the standard line associated with these delays, but it’s the one that makes the most sense. Nothing is this difficult to pass.
I also believe that Congress specifically not asking for another extension, is a signal that the governmental body is refusing to make any finite decisions about how the industry will be run (for now). It instead left the initial legalization – without a setup system of regulation to govern it – to the court system. It’s actually a rather weak move, and I think obvious. If the government was going to take its responsibility seriously, it would have passed a bill or asked for an extension, rather than doing the action that puts the responsibility back on the Court. But that’s what it did.
Without the government to act on its ruling, the Supreme Court finally stopped waiting around, and officially ended prohibition of cannabis on June 28th, 2021. In an 8-3 decision, the court ruled on officially dropping the laws that prohibit recreational cannabis use in terms of personal consumption and person cultivation, the prohibition of which, had already been ruled as unconstitutional. This makes Mexico a recreationally legalized country, along with Uruguay, Canada, and Georgia.
Smoking in public and in front of children is still expressly banned, no mention has been made of a commercial system, and the ruling requires the Health Ministry to issue permits for actual use…which is a bit odd, and kind of funny to expect, and likely only temporary until Congress submits something. However, unlike other legalized locations, the Mexican court has set the minimum age for cultivation and use at 18 years of age. This ruling comes after the court filed a declaration of unconstitutionality earlier in June, also in hopes of getting the government moving.
To be clear, the only parts that the Supreme Court currently struck down officially, are relevant to personal cultivation and consumption. Mexico is a legalized country for recreational use, but possession and transportation were left out for now, and so criminal penalties attached to these things still apply. Essentially, the Supreme Court passed a partial law, but the country still waits on the details to be ironed out by Congress. In that sense, the exact provisions right now are not as important as the fact that the Supreme Court made the step of pushing this through, since the government has failed to do its job.
Why did the Supreme Court do this?
This is an interesting question, and certainly open for debate. I think the biggest issue here is power. The Supreme Court made a ruling nearly three years ago which ordered the legislature to come up with laws. By the legislature not doing this, its essentially not following orders. And not only is it not following orders, this is a slap in the face to the power of the Supreme Court. After all, if the Supreme Court can’t issue an instruction and have it followed, then it erodes the power of the institution. Nearly three years ago the Supreme Court gave this order, and yet it can’t get the government to follow it.
By pushing forward with this legalization, it forces the government to get its act together. The Supreme Court was careful as to what it dropped, as it didn’t want to create pandemonium by dropping all laws, and allowing a free market with no regulation. Instead it dropped the most basic part of cannabis prohibition, which made Mexico a legalized country for adult recreational use, but it didn’t open the door enough for it to be taken advantage of before the official laws come in.
Some might see this action as simply moving a step forward in an otherwise stalled endeavor, and perhaps that’s the case. But I think the Supreme Court is getting antsy that it can’t back up its rulings, which threatens both it, and the concept of jurisprudencia. Does this function as a complete legalization? No, not completely. But it’s now legal to use cannabis recreationally in Mexico, even if the rest hasn’t been figured out just yet.
The world view
Where are we worldwide with cannabis recreational legalizations? Mexico’s inclusion into the list of legalized countries, expands the listing out that much further. Uruguay was the first country to officially end prohibition in 2013, and the only country to set up a government-run system. Following Uruguay, Canada legalized for adult recreational use in 2018, instituting a free market system.
The third country to legalize was Georgia, though it set up some wonky laws, allowing recreational use (possession and consumption), but not allowing sale, purchase, or cultivation. This is because the law also came out of a supreme court ruling, and therefore doesn’t quite jive correctly with the other laws on the books. At least for now. But this doesn’t change the fact that this former member of the Soviet Union, is the only country in the European/Eastern European/ former Soviet bloc area, to do such a thing.
We also know that with the inclusion of Connecticut, there are 18 legalized states in the US, as well as Canberra, Australia’s capital state, which also allows adult recreational use. These are the only true legalizations, though places like Spain, South Africa, and the Netherlands are certainly known for their incredibly lax cannabis laws, and in the case of Spain and the Netherlands, the coffeeshops and social clubs that go along with them.
In a way, what the Mexican Supreme Court did was ceremonial. It doesn’t help establish a regulated industry, it sets up a strange requirement for licensing for use, and it doesn’t remove criminal penalties that the final legislation will. But it did get the ball re-rolling, and applies some much needed pressure to some slow-functioning politicians. Will this actually bring about a law on paper? Well, that’s certainly the idea. But I wonder if in another few months, we’re going to be reading about a new Supreme Court update in light of a non-functional Congress. Either way, Mexico officially became the 4th legalized country for recreational cannabis use.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.