This past week, the Supreme Court in Mexico ruled 4-1 that four members of the group Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption) may plant, transport, and consume marijuana for recreational use. Additionally sections of a health law that banned the use and cultivation of the drug were ruled unconstitutional. Lisa Sanchez, the director of Mexico United Against Crime, an NGO, said this implies “a paradigm shift with newly expanded liberties and rights.” The senior policy manager for Drug Policy Alliance, Hannah Hetzer explained “this vote in Mexico’s Supreme Court is extraordinary for two reasons: It is being argued on human rights grounds and it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs.”
Mexico has recently decriminalized up to five grams of marijuana and up to a half a gram of cocaine. However, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto opposes the legalization of drugs, in light of Mexico’s Drug War against the cartels which have killed tens of thousands of people. Yet, a bill for the legalization of medical marijuana is currently being debated in Mexico, along with Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica. Uruguay, on the southern border of Brazil, was the first country to legalize marijuana in late 2013.
This ruling has particular relevance to the United States, because it shares a long border with Mexico. Historically the border has influenced the way the United States has dealt with pot, beginning in the 1900s. When Mexican immigrants began flooding over the border from the Mexican Revolution, marijuana became a problem in the United States for the first time. Previously, Americans had consumed cannabis in over-the-counter medicines, but did not realize how close cannabis was to the ‘marihuana’ that was crossing the border. Then, when the Great Depression hit, widespread outrage consumed the United States with a common misconception that Mexican immigrants were taking American jobs. In the 1930s hearings were held regarding the phenomenon that weed made ‘men of color’ hotheaded and desire sex with white women. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 banned the sale and use of weed (but has since been ruled unconstitutional). However, in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana was placed in the most restrictive category by President Nixon, although the Schafer Commission (a committee appointed by Nixon to analyze the effects of marijuana) recommended ending the ban on weed.
All forms of marijuana remained illegal until California legalized it for medicinal purposes in 1996. Since then, four states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana, and four states have decriminalized marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance states four main reasons why the legalization of marijuana is beneficial: (1) it is the largest cash crop and will put associated jobs into the economy; (2) it will provide more government revenue; (3) criminalization has not been proven to stop teenagers from smoking pot and teenagers and people of color face the violence and corruption associated with this criminalization; and (4) marijuana will have to be tested before it is consumed, so it will become safer. This testing of marijuana is an important point, because of the prominence of synthetic marijuana. Also known as K2, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, or Moon Rocks, this product is not meant for human use, due to its negative effect on the human mind. The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, instituted the criminalization of the creation and distribution of K2 in late October.
However it is clear that the United States is moving towards legalization. NYC has held a cannabis parade since 2012, that tries to “end the war on drugs, release the medicine, free the prisoners, heal the sick, and unite the nations.” Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders filed a bill entitled “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015” on November 4. However, the bill’s main aim is not to legalize marijuana across the country, but rather to give states the right to make their own decision and enable legal distributors to utilize banks (currently that is technically illegal). Jeb Bush has also played a part in normalizing smoking marijuana, when he admitted in a Republican debate that he had indeed smoked weed.
Some refute this trend of increasing popularity with the fact that Ohio recently voted against legalizing weed. However, the measure that was put forth would only allow commercial farming on 10 plots of land – that are owned by those who financed the bill. This also ignores the fact that nine states are set to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in the next year (Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Arizona, Maine, Missouri, and Rhode Island) and Florida is preparing to vote on legalizing medical marijuana. Vermont is the only state attempting to do it through the legislative process rather than through the voting booths. A University of Michigan study showed that college kids smoked weed more regularly than they did cigarettes and that only 5% of college students smoke cigarettes almost-daily (down from 19% in 1999). Furthermore, a report published in January 2015, found that consuming marijuana leads to a lower chance of death than tobacco or alcohol.
Allen St. Pierre, of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, posits that if Vermont is successful, then “nearly all of New England will move that way.” However, taking Colorado as a test case (as most do), Wyoming politicians have made possessing more than a pound of marijuana edibles a felony and Nebraska and Oklahoma have challenged Colorado’s legalization in the Supreme Court. So, perhaps it has not been proven that borders lead to the legalization of pot. However, the number of borders inside and within the United States has expanded.
Not only is there a movement towards legalization in assorted states and Mexico, the United States’ northern border is not immune from this trend either. Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supports the legalization of marijuana, along with 56% of Canadians. His party claims that “proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.” With arguments like that, ever increasing lax borders, a drug that has yet to be proven to cause significant harm in adults, and polls showing that 58% of Americans want legalization – what choice does the American government have? Stay tuned: here, here, or here.
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Arshaun Darabnia