Mexico’s highest court struck down the nation’s laws against consumption and personal cultivation of marijuana on Monday, more than five years after a limited ruling that declared the prohibitions against recreational cannabis unconstitutional. Under the court’s decision, all adults ages 18 years and older will be able to apply for a permit allowing them to possess and cultivate small quantities of marijuana for personal use.

“This is a step forward for the rights of cannabis users,” said Zara Snapp, co-founder of the think tank Instituto RIA. “But there’s still work to be done in congress to be able to regulate the market in a socially just way.”

In its 8 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens can apply for a permit from the Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Cofepris), the nation’s health department, to legally obtain cannabis. With the permit, adults will be allowed to possess up to 28 grams (about one ounce) of marijuana for personal use. The court also ruled that adults could apply for a permit to cultivate and harvest small amounts of cannabis for personal use. 

Those who obtain permits to possess or cultivate marijuana would be required to abstain from using cannabis in the presence of children and refrain from operating a motor vehicle or engaging in other potentially dangerous activities while under the influence of the drug. 

Mexico Prohibition Originally Ruled Unconstitutional In 1995

Mexico’s Supreme Court first ruled that laws prohibiting personal cannabis use were unconstitutional in 1995 in a decision limited to four people who had petitioned the court. The decision held that such laws violated the “right to the free development of personality” and are therefore unconstitutional. The court allowed the four members of the activist group Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Self-Consumption (Smart) to grow, transport and smoke marijuana for recreational use.

“If these are unconstitutional for us, they should be unconstitutional for the entire population,” Francisco Torres Landa, an attorney and one of the four successful petitioners in the case, said at the time. “Our long-term goal is that everything should be regulated. None of us is seeking to have consumption be the real object,” he added. “The goal is to make sure we create the basis to have the ability to challenge the actual basis for prohibition.”

In 2017, Mexico legalized cannabis products with less than one percent THC for medicinal purposes. After the nation’s courts received more petitions from citizens seeking to use cannabis recreationally, the court directed Mexico’s lawmakers to draft legislation to legalize marijuana for use by adults within 90 days. The deadline was later extended by the court until December 2020.

In March of this year, Mexico’s lower house approved legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, but the measure has not yet been approved by the country’s Senate. The continued delay prompted Monday’s ruling from the Supreme Court.

U.S. Cannabis Advocates Applaud Decision

Reaction to the ruling from north of the border was swift. Morgan Paxhia, co-founder and managing director of cannabis investment fund Poseidon, says that the court’s decision is a “big win for the people of Mexico,” noting that an analysis from market data firm Headset at the beginning of 2021 projected that the nation would be the largest federally legal adult-use market in the world, and the second-largest market overall after California.

“We see Mexico as an attractive investment opportunity given its local markets but also the potential to be a major contributor to global cannabis markets,” Paxhia wrote in an email to High Times. “Poseidon is already active in Mexico making its first investment in Grupo Landsteiner Scientific and look forward to seeing the market open on a larger scale.”

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), noted that “With these actions by the Court, the United States has become an island of federal marijuana prohibition in North America.” 


A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.

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Mexico Supreme Court Decriminalizes Recreational Cannabis

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