Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of personal marijuana use today—a significant shift in the country’s historically conservative drug laws.
Ruling on a case filed by activists from the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption (or SMART, in Spanish), the court determined that the plaintiffs had the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use.
Today’s decision only applies to the small number of individuals involved in the case, and does not change national drug laws, although that could change if the court rules on four or more similar cases.
SMART had applied for a license from Mexico’s drug regulation agency in 2013, which was denied, and appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the government should respect the “constitutional doctrine of the free development of personality,” as described by the group’s lawyer.
A majority of Mexicans still oppose legalization. But as Latin American countries like Uruguay and Chile, as well as states north of the border, vote to legalize marijuana, the ruling may be a first step towards a nationwide change of heart.
“They have to regulate it,” Fernando Belaunzarán, a former representative in Mexico’s lower house for the leftist party PRD and a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization, told reporters outside the Supreme Court after the decision. “The ball is in their court, even if good consciences are offended.”
Mexico’s long and violent war on drugs, including marijuana, has given rise to powerful rival drug cartels. Despite the United States’ changing attitudes toward marijuana and its decreasing reliance on Mexican imports, Mexican narcotraffickers still make money from kidnapping and extortion. Experts say this problem is unlikely to change, regardless of whether marijuana is legalized within Mexico.