The U.S.' neighbors down south made a huge decision on Wednesday that could alter Latin America's excruciating war on drugs. Carving a path for marijuana legalization in Mexico, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that individuals have the right to grow and distribute weed for their personal use. Four out of five judges voted in favor of the argument of the constitutional right to "free development of the personality" and the disproportionate penalties for pot compared to those for alcohol and tobacco.
The court's decision does not strike down existing laws on marijuana, but it establishes a precedent that could eventually change them, according to the New York Times.
"This is a tremendously powerful decision that could open the way for real change," Armando Santa Cruz, who brought the case to court, told Vice. "We've made history. It's a hole in the dike, but it's the first hole in the dike."
Santa Cruz is one among four activists who are behind the case. They belong to of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use, whose acronym in Spanish is SMART. The group says it has no plans to grow or smoke pot — instead, its aim was to force a debate in Mexico's Congress about the consequences of banning marijuana, including the brutal drug violence that has scourged the country for a decade.
Mexico is a major producer of illegal marijuana and notorious for its reputation as a drug trafficking hub. (Earlier this year, one of its most infamous drug kingpins, El Chapo, escaped prison for the second time, hinting at his power even over the prison guards.)
Though activists claim that legalizing the drug would dampen the revenue of Mexico's illegal drug cartels, the New York Times reported that some experts say it would do little to hurt their dominance.
The legalization of marijuana has come in waves in the region. Uruguay has a regulated market for weed; Chile's Congress is debating its legalization for recreational and medical use; and in the U.S., 23 states and Washington, D.C. have medical marijuana, and four others and the capital have legalized the drug for recreational use as well.
Cover image via iStock / petdcat