Marijuana Use Is a Human Right, According to Ruling from Mexico’s Supreme Court

Marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law and the laws of some U.S. states. In Mexico, which is touted as a partner in the U.S.’s “War on Drugs,” marijuana also remains illegal, but with an unusual legal twist. In November 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of individuals who claimed an individual right to grow and possess marijuana for personal use. The court couched its ruling in the language of human rights, based on the right of “free development of one’s personality” found in the Mexican Constitution. This is best described as a “right of self-determination,” or for each person to make decisions for themselves. No similar right appears in the U.S. Constitution. The ruling will not have a far-reaching effect, however, since the court stressed that it only applies to the four individuals who were parties to the case. In other words, the Supreme Court of Mexico only legalized marijuana for four people. Still, the ruling is important to the changing legal views of the drug.

At least 23 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription. An additional 17 states allow limited medical marijuana use. This includes Texas, which allows the use of a particular product derived from the marijuana plant for the treatment of a single medical condition, intractable epilepsy. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 487.001 et seq. Four of the states that allow medical use—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—also allow recreational use. Federal law still deems marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance, the highest degree of prohibition. 21 U.S.C. § 812(c)(I)(c)(10).

A law passed in Mexico in 2009 decriminalized the possession of up to five grams of marijuana for personal use, as well as small amounts of other drugs. The sale and transport of marijuana largely remains prohibited by law. Since 2006, a conflict between drug trafficking cartels and Mexican police and military forces, part of the broader “War on Drugs,” has had a tremendous human cost. Estimates of the death toll at the end of 2012 exceeded 100,000, with an additional 25,000 people reported missing. Legalizing marijuana in the U.S. has reportedly had an economic impact on the cartels, but it has not necessarily weakened them. The ongoing conflict provides context for the Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling.

The term “development of personality” is not identified as a distinct right in the U.S. Constitution, nor does it appear in published case law in the U.S. The U.S. Supreme Court mentioned a similar term more than 40 years ago in a different context, a passage justifying obscenity laws:  “a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to…the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass commercial exploitation of sex.” Paris Adult Theater I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 63 (1973). A concurring opinion in another case from the same year, however, made reference to the First Amendment’s protection of “autonomous control over the development and expression of one’s intellect, interests, tastes, and personality.” Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 211 (1973) (Douglas, J., concurring). It is highly unlikely that the reasoning employed by Mexico’s court would work in a U.S. legal proceeding.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified federal crimes attorney Michael J. Brown has defended people in west Texas courts against state and federal charges for more than 20 years. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Medical Marijuana User’s Spouse Charged with Marijuana-Related Offenses; State Supreme Court Rules in Her Favor, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 18, 2016

Court Vacates Guilty Plea in Minor Marijuana Case that Resulted in Twenty-Year Prison Sentence, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 9, 2016

Federal Drug Laws Come into Conflict with Tribal Laws on Indian Land, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 23, 2015


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