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Cannabis Reform Takes Root in Mexico and South America

Marijuana activist in Mexico
Marijuana activist in Mexico
Marijuana activist in Mexico

By Chris Goldstein

While much of the focus on legalizing marijuana is on the United States there are countries making real progress South of the border.

The Supreme Court in Mexico handed down a landmark ruling in November that declared overall prohibition unconstitutional. The case was brought by four individual citizens. The arguments were not some long list of regulatory details but instead a more fundamental question of basic human rights.

Initially the ruling only applies to the four plaintiffs who have since have been given special permits to grow, posses and use cannabis. However the high court’s decision has significantly moved the issue forward. In the wake of the ruling politicians are beginning to hold sessions around Mexico to explore how best to legalize marijuana in the country.

Mexico decriminalized possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana in 2009. This came with the downgrading of small amounts of all drugs in “personal use” quantities.

Because of an ideal and almost year-round outdoor growing climate, Mexico was a key supplier to the underground marijuana market in the United States for more than a century. But tighter post-9/11 border security, shifting US laws and an appetite for better quality cannabis by Americans has seen the market for Mexican cannabis shrink considerably.

In fact, even the Drug Enforcement Administration admits that 90 percent of the marijuana smoked in the US is now domestically produced.

The Supreme Court ruling could allow hundreds of similar lawsuits unless legislative reform is enacted. If the court rules four more times in a similar manner it will effectively legalize marijuana for the entire country’s 125 million citizens.

Mexico is also moving on compassionate access. Institutional Revolutionary Party Senator Cristina Diaz has filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana. She told reporters in January that she expects the bill to be passed by the summer of 2016.

Further south in Chile, the world’s largest medical marijuana garden was unveiled in January. Run by the government, more than 1.5 tons of cannabis is expected to be harvested and supplied to 4,000 patients this year. Chile is also considering decriminalization for personal use amounts.

In December another surprise came when Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree legalizing medical cannabis. That country is considering several new approaches to drug policy after serving as a haven for dangerous cartels for decades.

Another landmark court ruling was delivered in Costa Rica. A local criminal court acquitted lawyer Mario Alberto Cerdas Salazar after he was caught growing 170 marijuana plants in a rooftop garden. The ruling affirmed that specifics of prohibition laws only apply those who sell or traffic in cannabis. Personal use, including cultivation, comes with no criminal penalty. Cerdas Salazar faced up to 24 years in prison. He argued that the plants were for his person, medical use. On several occasions he even refused to sell to an undercover police investigator.

The ruling could have wider implications in Costa Rica because it affirms that consuming cannabis is not a crime.

Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize cannabis for all purposes across an entire nation. We will have a detailed report on that country in the March issue of Freedom Leaf Magazine.