Mexico’s Mandate

Cannabis is legal in Mexico! Well, not quite…

Perhaps some headlines surprised, confused and excited you this past week as early claims that the Mexican Supreme Court legalized cannabis flittered across your preferred screen. Two rulings declared cannabis prohibition unconstitutional, Oct. 31, but cannabis isn't quite legal—yet.

While the ruling certainly signifies a landmark in cannabis policy not only in Mexico but in North America, Mexico's Supreme Court, like ours, doesn't have the power to create laws, only determine if they're constitutional.

The responsibility now falls to Mexico's Congress to change the laws concerning cannabis to something, well, constitutional.

That doesn't mean police can't still arrest Mexicans or tourists for cannabis consumption, possession or distribution. It just means that, now, when someone is arrested for a cannabis crime, they can fight the charge on the grounds that it's unconstitutional.

That might remain a viable alternative for Mexican citizens, who are better equipped to engage in Mexican legal battle. But if you're south of the border for a visit, we don't recommend inviting that kind of negative energy into your life by sparking up a big, skunky J in front of a Federale.

For now, just act like cannabis is still illegal in Mexico. When it happens for real, you'll know.

The way Mexico's government arrived at the decision turns out to be an intriguing example of judiciary conduct. Unlike our judicial branch, Mexico's Supreme Court must rule the same way on five different cases before the rulings are taken as precedent.

The Supreme Court ruled in two cases Oct. 31, which built upon three earlier rulings—the first of which occurred in 2015—to meet the five-ruling threshold for unconstitutionality.

The rulings centered around an idea prevalent throughout Mexico's Constitution, that its citizens have the "right to the free development of the personality." Legally, it's similar to our right to privacy—it's never explicitly stated in the Constitution, but it's supported in several clauses.

The right is similar to values presumably held in the U.S. a la "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but it seems Mexico is a little more progressive when it comes to the interpretation of personal freedom.

While our cannabis debate gets muddled in what's right for society, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the individual. The court confirmed (five times) that cannabis use doesn't hurt other people, and it certainly falls shorts of violating anyone else's rights.

It's the same libertarian argument proponents of cannabis and other drugs (and personal autonomy in general) have been using for decades: my body, my rules—a concept some U.S. politicians seem to have a harder time grasping than, well, other people's bodies.

Mexico's Congress now has 90 days to revise statutes concerning cannabis to more closely reflect this newly liberated right of personal autonomy, but exactly how they go about that remains anyone's guess.

In the U.S. alone, we've seen a nearly complete spectrum of cannabis laws, from Vermont's legal use and possession but no legal sale, to Oklahoma's concentrate-only stance, to our very own flower-only stance.

Where Mexico's Congress lands is anyone's guess. In the meantime, the decisions represent another crumbling brick in the wall between society and cannabis.