Mexican Supreme Court: legalise marijuana because the free development of personality is a right

To legalise or not to legalise, everyone has an opinion on the matter. We look at marijuana policy in the Americas to understand why.

The Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favour of the legalisation of marijuana on the grounds that prohibiting personal use and possession violates the “right to the free development of personality”. This is yet another demonstration that the emotional debate regarding legalisation has been shifting from issues of national security to the benefits of state regulation, scientific arguments and human rights claims. We look at marijuana policy in the Americas to explore how this change has accelerated the process of legalisation in certain countries.

growing facility of the Tikun Olam company
Growing marijuana in a greenhouse © Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The United States

Four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska – have legalised marijuana both for medical and recreational purposes, whereas its medical use is legal in 23 states and Washington D.C.. Over half of Americans favour legalisation compared to only a third of citizens a decade ago, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. Those who support it indicate medical benefits (41%) and safety of use (27%) as the foundations of their point of view. Nevertheless, this shift is still limited by conventional arguments such as that it is harmful for society and individuals, as 43% of those opposed to legalisation believe, and that it is a dangerous and addictive drug, as a third of respondents think.


The newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has maintained his stance on the issue: following the US example, Canada should aspire “to legalise, regulate and restrict access”. Currently, the country allows medical use of marijuana to treat pain related to ailments such as epilepsy, AIDS and cancer. Around 30,000 people have registered as patients using medical marijuana. Furthermore, Trudeau argues for legalisation based on public safety: it gives the government control over the market, diminishing illegal distribution, which is dangerous especially for the young. “Canada has the highest use of marijuana by under age people in the developed world, we need to make sure we’re keeping our kids safe”, he said.

us marines patrol
US Marines patrolling marijuana fields © Scott Olson/Getty Images

Latin America and the Caribbean

Whereas North American concerns revolve around public health, Latin American politicians are frequently confronted with the problem of the strong presence of criminal organizations in the region. “Concern over violent drug-related crime will influence the direction of policy”, Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago Ivor Archie said in 2013.

The regional response to drug-related problems has been to gradually decriminalize drug use and adopt a health-oriented approach. The Organization of American States (OAS), one of the leading regional integration bodies, supports this perspective: “The fundamental change has been to shift from viewing drug users as criminals or accomplices of drug-traffickers to seeing them as victims and chronic addicts”.


The most radical reform was introduced in Uruguay in 2014, making it the only South American country that has legalised the use and sale of marijuana. The plant can be cultivated for personal use at home, or bought in pharmacies or collective “growers clubs”. Ex-President José Mujica, who introduced the reform, justified it on health and security arguments. “Prohibition has proved itself a splendid failure,” he commented, “we opted for regulating the sale of marijuana. We want to take users out of hiding and create a situation where we can say: ‘You are overdoing it’”. Nevertheless, despite initial enthusiasm about this plan, there are many voices criticizing the efficiency of implementation. “The issue is lack of information – there is still a lot of ignorance about marijuana,” says Marcos Berneda, who grows the crop.

pro marijuana rally
Pro marijuana rally in Florida, USA © Joe Raedle/Getty Images


The debate intensified in the country after its Supreme Court ruled to allow an eight-year-old epilepsy patient to use a cannabis-based treatment to alleviate her suffering, in September last year. It was the first judgment in support of medical marijuana in Mexico. The most recent spark in the discussion was the unprecedented decision taken by the Supreme Court in November 2015, which favoured recreational use based on a human rights argument, with particular reference to the right to the free development of personality. President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned this decision, arguing, “it has been proven that consuming this substance damages the health of children and youths”.

Marijuana legalisation continues to be a multidimensional issue for policymakers. Although we can observe a general tendency across the Americas for loosening laws that regulate it, there are both benefits and risks related to legalisation, making the process highly controversial.

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