Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mexican Supreme Court paves the way for marijuana decriminalization (Nov. 4, 2015)

Mexico's Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling yesterday that could pave the way for legalizing marijuana. The decision applies specifically to the group that brought the case forward, but the vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use, reports the New York Times.

The five-justice panel approved the measure in a 4-1 vote, reports the Associated Press. But if the court rules the same way on five similar petitions, it would then establish the precedent to change the law and allow general recreational use.

A similar process led to the court's recent ruling that Mexican laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, reports The Guardian.

The basis of the ruling was the opinion that prohibiting consumption of marijuana for pleasure impinges on an individual's "free personal development." Justice Arturo Zaldivar wrote an 88-page opinion based on principles of human rights, arguing that the state recognizes an individual’s autonomy to engage in recreational activities that do not harm others.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said his government respects the Court's decisions and instructed the relevant areas to explain the reach of the decision, reports Animal Político. "This will open up the debate over the best regulation for inhibiting drug consumption, a public health issue," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Across Latin America there is a growing backlash against the U.S. "war on drugs" approach, explains the NYTimes piece. Uruguay enacted a groundbreaking marijuana legalization law, Chile is harvesting its first medical marijuana crop, Bolivia has fought to defend traditional uses of coca leaves and Brazil's Supreme Court recently debated decriminalizing drugs. (Check out DW's "dossier" on the subject of legalization.)

Advocates for decriminalization argue that it would rob drug cartels of a significant source of income, reports the Los Angeles Times. Yet it's unlikely this decision will have any impact on the industry said Alejandro Hope in the El Daily Post last week, as most the country's marijuana production is intended for export to the United States anyway. (See last Thursday's post.)

The case will pressure politicians to take a stronger stance on the issue of drugs, say experts quoted on Al Jazeera. Since 2012 Mexican congressmen have introduced five federal measures related to marijuana — from allowing personal cultivation, to decriminalizing its personal use, to legalizing medical use — but none has come to a vote.

Though personal possession of small amounts of marijuana has been legal for more than a decade, its cultivation and sale has been outlawed in Mexico since 1926, notes the Wall Street Journal.

The issue of medical marijuana has come to the fore in Mexico recently when an 8-year-old girl from Monterrey who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy, becoming the first person in Mexico to receive legal authorization to consume marijuana derived medication, reports the Washington Post.

Al Jazeera cites a report from the Mexican Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho (CEDD) showing a marked increase in incarceration rates across Latin America for nonviolent drug offenses. Mexican federal prisons saw a 1,200 percent increase in incarcerations for drug crimes between 2006 and 2014. And 60 percent of prisoners in correctional centers across nine Mexican states are incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. (See Tuesday's post.)

Most Mexicans oppose legalization however: A recent poll found that 77 percent of Mexicans are against recreational marijuana use, although 81 percent are in favor of its use for medicinal purposes, reports the AP. Peña Nieto is personally opposed as well, and believes legalization would lead to increased drug use, according to the LATimes.

Mexico’s conservative Catholic Church also expressed concern, according to The Guardian.

AFP has a feature on the unlikely group behind Mexico's legal battle to decriminalize marijuana: two attorneys, an accountant and a social activist with no interest in actually growing or smoking pot.

News Briefs

  • Growing differences in national drug policies around the world are creating a risk of fragmentation with negative results warned United Nations University experts, ahead of next year's special General Assembly meeting on the issue of drugs.
  • "Latin America is leading a growing international movement toward alternative drug policies based on promoting health, human rights, and proportional punishment. With a wealth of experience and innovation in the realm of drug policy reform, the region is well positioned to advise other Global South nations struggling with similar issues," explains Daniela Westphal Huber on Open Society Foundations' Voices. "For poorer countries, drug policy may appear less urgent than matters like disease prevention and food security. But initiatives like the South–South Exchange reveal how all these problems are interrelated. For example, injection drug use is a leading cause of Colombia’s rising AIDS rates, a disease that some African nations have only recently gotten under control," she writes.
  • Mexican police  found 38 kilograms of cocaine in the luggage of a supposed patient about to board an air ambulance flight to New York City, reports the Associated Press.
  • Six people -- three students and three bystanders -- died in the events that led to the disappearance of 43 students from a teachers college in Mexico last year. Yesterday Mexican and Argentine experts exhumed the body of Julio Cesar Mondragon, who was found dead with his face skinned off hours after events of that night, reports the Associated Press. An independent panel formed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights determined that the first autopsy on his corpse was marked by inconsistencies.
  • Mexico's left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, proposed that the country's left-wing forces create a coalition for next year's state elections. The proposal is an attempt to counteract the popularity of the new, more progressive leftist Morena party, reports TeleSur.
  • And in another potentially historic judicial decision, Colombia's constitutional court said adoption agencies can't discriminate against gay, lesbian and transsexual couples during an adoption process, reports the Associated Press.
  • Human rights organizations in Venezuela are skeptical about the consultation phase of a draft of the country's new Human Rights Plan. Last month, Rafael Uzcátegui, General Coordinator of the Programa Venezolano de Educacción – Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA), said the three months allotted for consultation were insufficient. Earlier this year organizations complained that the methodology excluded civil society groups and led to document acceptable to only one sector of society, report Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow won a third term in a snap election, called a year ahead of schedule. Reuters explains that the move was motivated by the government's heavy dependence on Venezuelan PetroCaribe aid, and fears that economic woes and an opposition victory in the other country's parliamentary elections could end access to the program's funds.
  • When he was last in office as Peru's President, Alan García pursued a polemic clemency campaign that included pardons for hundreds of convicted drug traffickers and armed robbery. Now the so-called "narco pardons," which have been investigated by congressional committee have come back to haunt García as he seeks a third term in next year's presidential elections, reports the Associated Press. Witnesses outline a story of a parallel justice system fueled by bribes. Fourteen of his collaborators on the issue have been on trial since August charged with criminal conspiracy and bribe-taking in connection with the pardons.
  • Yesterday Puerto Rico's governor submitted a bill to restructure the island's heavily indebted public power company, reports the Associated Press. The move comes less than a day after the Electric Power Authority obtained a brief extension to finalize a deal with creditors and bondholders on restructuring part of its $9 billion debt.
  • Atlantic's CityLab has a fascinating interview with Alfonso Silva a coordinator with the Brazilian Homeless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto, or MTST), illustrated with impacting aerial shots of the land occupations that seem to be some residents' best bet for housing in São Paulo.

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