The name of this column has been changed to World Liberty Weekdays from World Liberty Weekend to adjust for the new publication days. The content and aim, however, will remain the same.
A Mexican court has granted two unnamed individuals the right to use recreational cocaine on condition that they not sell the cocaine they would be using. The ruling will now move to a higher court before it officially becomes law, and is being hailed as a victory against Mexico’s War on Drugs.
Cofepris, Mexico’s national health regulator, was ordered to allow the two individuals to use small amounts of cocaine, but it has been blocked claiming that it was outside their legal remit until approved by a tribunal court. Regardless of the future ruling, this case has put a crack in the common view of cocaine being a “hard drug” set apart from other illegal substances.
Professor at the Center for Research and Training of Economics in Mexico City, one of Mexico’s top think-tanks, Alejandro Madrazo, expressed his disbelief at this ruling stating that:
“It’s unprecedented. No court that I know has ever taken seriously the idea that a ban on cocaine is unconstitutional. It’s going beyond what now has become a common trope that cannabis is a soft drug but not the other drugs.”
Mexico has suffered the ill effects of drug prohibition since 2006, with the launch of then-President Felipe Calderón’s program to use the country’s military to fight drug cartels after attempts in 2005 failed to halt the violence. The Guardian reported in 2016 that almost 200,000 people had been murdered since the drug war’s implementation and rising abuses from security authorities including a reported 600% rise in the use of torture from 2003-2013.
Though Calderón’s efforts have resulted in arrests or deaths of 25 of 37 of the most wanted drug traffickers, according to officials, other violent crimes like kidnapping and extortion have also been rising, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the violence. The former president tried to link the increase in violence to research suggesting it was already rising before his election, but during his tenure no other country in the Western Hemisphere experienced such a drastic rise in homicides.
It is this grim situation that led to Mexico United Against Crime (MUAC) filing the lawsuit allowing these two people to use and possess cocaine. MUAC’s director, Lisa Sanchez, stated how the organization has strived for years to make a “more secure, just and peaceful Mexico,” and that, “This case is about insisting on the need to stop criminalizing… drug users and designing better public policies that explore all the available options.”
The decision is certainly a welcome addition to the recent trend of decriminalization and possibly legalization in Mexican law. In 2009, small amounts of all drugs including heroin, cocaine, LSD, and methamphetamines were decriminalized, setting a maximum personal use that would not receive charges. Lawmakers hoped that this would eliminate police corruption and move the focus from small-time users to big cartels, and encourage treatment for addiction instead of prosecution.
Just two years ago, medicinal marijuana was legalized, and in October 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the country’s prohibition was unconstitutional and gave Parliament 90 days to draft legalization legislation. Parliament has begun planning to receive public input and it’s expected that it could be fully legal this fall.
These rulings can only be beneficial for the country that had constant problems with drug cartel linked violence. Though the common rhetoric from US politicians is that of drugs being funneled from Mexico, there is actually a market for American marijuana from states that have legalized the plant. This “counterflow” was discovered in July 2016 when two US citizens were caught attempting to smuggle into Mexico five kilos in the luggage rack of their vehicle and later admitted to authorities that it had come from Colorado and was in transit to Mexico City.
If Mexico has similar results than the US, legalization could be the key to fighting this issue. Between 2003 and 2009, when the US’s border patrol doubled in size, there was no noticeable effect on the amount of marijuana and other drugs seized. From 2013-2018, when Colorado and Washington legalized weed, the amount of marijuana seized decreased by 78%.
The conclusion is clear: Strict enforcement to curb drug-related violence only leads to different kinds of violence, and the best policy is to remove the incentives that drive the cartels. Though the decision was for only two individuals, the ruling has now started a precedent in the courts that will surely lead to more cases and more victories against drug wars. It’s hard to believe that Mexico could soon surpass the US and the rest of the world in drug legalization, and I look forward to the day when other countries are said to “follow the example of Mexico.”