Losing Patience With Legislators, Mexico's Supreme Court Orders Permits Allowing Consumers To Grow and Possess Marijuana

Six years after the court ruled that pot prohibition was unconstitutional, the Mexican Congress is still dithering about how to license and regulate commercial suppliers.


The Mexican Supreme Court first ruled that marijuana prohibition was unconstitutional in 2015. That decision became binding nationwide three years later, when the court gave the Mexican Congress 90 days to pass a legalization bill. Legislators missed that deadline and several others, and last week the court lost patience, ordering the federal government to issue permits that will allow cannabis consumers to possess and grow marijuana at home.

Similar permits have been available since 2015, but until now they were limited to marijuana users who had filed lawsuits and obtained injunctions. Commercial cultivation and distribution remain illegal.

"There will be no permits for planting outdoors," Mexican drug policy activist Lisa Sánchez told Vice. "There will be no participation of companies. Marijuana is not going to be sold in retail…You can't consume marijuana in public space. And health crimes, drug crimes, these remain intact. Thus, marijuana trafficking will continue to be a crime in Mexico, weed dealing will continue to be a crime in Mexico, [and] the eradication of illicit crops will continue to be an activity of the Mexican government."

Mexico legalized limited medical use of marijuana in 2017. Last year President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confidently predicted that the legislature would approve a framework for licensing and regulating recreational marijuana suppliers in early 2021. But legislators still had not agreed on the details when the most recent court-imposed deadline came and went on April 30, and this time they did not request an extension.

Under a bill that the Mexican Senate approved last November, adults 18 or older would be allowed to buy marijuana from state-licensed retailers, possess up to 28 grams (about an ounce), and grow up to six plants for personal use. The Chamber of Deputies failed to act on the bill by the December 15 deadline, which the Supreme Court then extended yet again. In March, the lower chamber approved a different bill that has since been stalled in the Senate.

López Obrador said he would respect the Supreme Court's ruling, but he suggested that corrective legislation or a public referendum might be appropriate, depending on how the cannabis permits work out. "Of course we're going to respect what the court has decided, and we're going to evaluate," he said at a news conference last week. "We're going to see what effects it has. If we see…that it's not working to address the serious problem of drug addiction, that it's not working to stop violence, then we would act." That is a strange way of framing the issue, since the court-ordered possession and home cultivation permits do not address the black market, except to the extent that homegrown marijuana reduces demand for illegally produced pot.

If legislators ever get their act together, Mexico will be by far the most populous country to legalize recreational marijuana at the national level, joining Canada and Uruguay on the short list of governments that have taken that step. Mexican legalization would create a contiguous weed-friendly zone stretching 4,800 miles from Mexico's border with Guatemala to Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. That zone includes every U.S. state on the Pacific Coast.

Mexico might be the third country to legalize marijuana—or possibly the fourth, if Israeli legislators follow through on a legalization plan that was endorsed last fall by both of the major parties that controlled the government at the time. The new governing coalition, a hodgepodge of right-wing and left-wing parties, is also officially in favor of legalization.

In the U.S., 18 states, representing 44 percent of the national population, now allow recreational use of marijuana, but the federal ban remains in place. Since President Joe Biden wants to keep it that way and congressional Democrats who favor legalization are not making a serious effort to attract Republican support, the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

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    1. Why bother having a congress and executive when the Supreme court can make all the rules?

      1. What, you think it’s proper that a legislature can make icky objects illegal?

        Have you read the Mexican constitution, or this particular decision? Maybe their constitution actually does forbid making objects illegal, and the decision is proper. Maybe the US constitution does too, and our Supreme Court hasn’t got the guts to do the right thing.

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        2. “Maybe the US constitution does too, and our Supreme Court hasn’t got the guts to do the right thing.” Exactly.

  2. You must understand, before issuing rules they my figure out which cronies will get the permits, how much kickbacks they will get and how much taxes they can scarf off the little people.

    1. Yeah, corruption is basically what has kept Mexico from being California

      Although California is catching up.

  3. You’d think the author would make the libertarian argument about the unmentioned drug cartels in Mexico, not wanting pot to be legal, because that would eat into their profits (oversized thanks to drugs being illegal in Mexico). And how the cartels fund many of the legislators because they want drugs to remain illegal with the Federales not having the same tools and firepower of the cartels to stop them.

  4. So the Mexico cartels are basically libertarians. Cool.

  5. You know who else “lost patience with legislators” and acted on his own?

    1. Was it someone who had both a pen and a phone?

  6. I’m not an expert on the role of the courts in Mexican government but how does a court order a legislature to create legislation? Isn’t the decision to create legislation ultimately a legislative activity?

    1. Whenever I see discussion in English of foreign constitutional rulings, it always seems foreign constitutions are vague, with provisions like, “Nothing bad is allowed,” and courts ruling, “This is bad, so our constitution doesn’t allow it.”

    2. It’s a thing here too. If you read the text of various Constitutional amendments it’ll typically end with something like “Congress shall have the power to enforce this amendment with appropriate legislation”

  7. That’s what courts will be in Libertopia: replacements for legislators. Who needs an elected legislature when you have an enlightened court with dictatorial authority?

    Libertarian Moment!

  8. Actually got held up by Federales between Calexico and San Felipe about 25 years ago in broad daylight, in one of their fucking “Mordidas”. Had rarely been so mad in my young adult life. Payed their bribe and was able to go along my way with my wife and 5 yr old daughter. This included brandishing rifles at us, BTW.

    I realize now that the only kind of place this happens at is where corruption is bone deep. Where at every level of government there is an unspoken agreement that goes something like “I’ll let you get away with your racket if you let me get away with mine”. Which may explain why it’s a third world shit hole down there.

    Who gives a fuck what the Mexican government does?

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