Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled for the fifth time that the country’s prohibition on marijuana is unconstitutional, essentially making it difficult for authorities to successfully prosecute someone for consumption, possession or cultivation of the plant.
Under Mexican law, precedent is set when the Supreme Court rules similarly in five separate cases. With this threshold now met, individuals charged with marijuana crimes can successfully cite the court’s rulings to argue that any punishment would impede their constitutional rights. But the rulings have no bearing on the process of commercialization or sales of cannabis. It is now up to Mexican lawmakers to decide how pot will be regulated.
President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will take office in December, has signaledthat his administration aims to fully legalize marijuana. As a result, Mexico is expected to follow Canada, becoming the second major North American nation to fully legalize and regulate cannabis. Analysts and some U.S. politicians are urging Congress and the Trump administration to look to its neighbors and take steps to end federal prohibition as well.
Hailing Mexico’s court ruling as “great news,” Democrat Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, told Newsweek that “the movement is cresting.”
“We’ve seen Canada make the jump to legalize and now Mexico is creating a pathway towards it,” the congressman, who is a founding member of the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus, pointed out. “Seeing our neighbors making progress should put much more pressure on us to get it right and ditch our outdated federal marijuana policy.”
While nine states and the nation’s capital have legalized recreational marijuana, and more than 30 states have done so for medicinal use, it remains an illegal schedule 1 drug at the federal level. Michigan and North Dakota have ballot measures expected to pass on November 6 that would legalize recreational cannabis as well. Support for legalization is also bipartisan, with a recent poll from Gallup showing that 75 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents and 53 percent of Republicans are in favor.
“Marijuana prohibition is crumbling across North America,” Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Newsweek . He also pointed out that U.S. states have been “leading the way on sensible cannabis policy reform for the past several years.” However, with Canada’s recreational legalization on October 17 and Mexico’s rapid steps to follow a similar path, Tvert argued that “Congress needs to take action at the federal level so that the U.S. can continue to be a leader on marijuana policy.”
Despite federal prohibition, the legal state-level weed industry has become a massive multi-billion dollar industry over just the past few years. A report by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics estimated that the legal U.S. market was worth some $8.5 billion in 2017, with the legal weed industry growing by 37 percent globally. After Canada’s decision to legalize, it has seen cannabis stock prices soar, leading many experts and investors to compare the budding industry to that of Bitcoin and the 1990s internet boom.
While Trump has signaled that he is open to cannabis reforms pushed by some in Congress, his Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a staunch supporter of marijuana prohibition. Bipartisan legislation has checked his ability to target cannabis businesses that are legal at the state level, however.
With federal prohibitions remaining in place, U.S. investors have expressed concern that Canada – and possibly now Mexico – will begin to dominate the North American industry. Derek Peterson, CEO of California-based marijuana producer and seller Terra Tech, told HuffPost Canada in September that Canadian companies are gaining significant amounts of capital. Within a short time, he feared these businesses would set their sights southward to “soak up market share.”
With Canada, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California all having already legalized marijuana, Mexico doing so would make the plant legal along the Pacific Coast of North America. However, as U.S. borders are managed by federal agents, cross-border trade of cannabis will remain illegal without major changes from Washington.
Thus far, with Canada’s legalization, border agents have reportedly taken a tough stance against cannabis users. Roy Ludwig, mayor of Estevan in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, has voiced “concern” after he and other residents of his town have faced strict questioning at the U.S. border following recreational marijuana legalization on October 17. He said that some residents have even been blocked from entering the U.S. when they admitted to former use.
Last week, a U.S. citizen was also arrested by border agents who reportedly found six envelopes containing marijuana, two jars of cannabis resin and four packages of THC gummy worms in the vehicle’s glove compartment. Although the U.S. Justice Department has said the products were obtained legally in Canada, David Dratch, a 23-year-old New York resident, now faces charges that could send him to prison for up to five years and lead to a fine of up to $250,000.
But as analysts have argued, U.S. prohibition is facing greater and greater pressure from within and from its neighbors.
“With marijuana already legal in Canada, now both of the U.S.’s neighbors will have legal marijuana, making the U.S. federal government’s prohibition of marijuana even more untenable,” Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, said following Mexico’s supreme court ruling in a statement emailed to Newsweek .