MEXICO CITY – Two people in Mexico can now legally use cocaine, a judge here has ruled, saying that adults have a fundamental right to ingest the drug for personal use. The decision raises the prospect that one day cocaine will follow the path toward legality blazed by marijuana advocates.
The ruling only applies to the two plaintiffs who brought the cases, but experts said it cracks open the longstanding taboo surrounding hard drugs and offers a legal roadmap for advocates of looser drug laws. Opponents of the decision warned that it could backfire and galvanize opponents.
“It’s unprecedented. No court that I know has ever taken seriously the idea that a ban on cocaine is unconstitutional,” said Alejandro Madrazo, a professor in the drug policy program at the Center for Research and Training of Economics in Mexico City. “It’s going beyond what now has become a common trope that cannabis is a soft drug but not the other drugs.”
Efforts to legalize small amounts of cocaine will take years, and the prospect of success is arguably slim at best. But experts said the judge’s decision makes it possible to imagine a different approach to Mexico’s gruesome and losing drug war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past decade.
The cases were brought by Mexico United Against Crime, which used the same strategy and argument to push for the legalization of marijuana. In 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that individuals should be allowed to use marijuana for recreational purposes, although lawmakers have yet to come up with a legal framework to make that happen.
The proponents’ argument hinges on the idea that individuals have a fundamental right to personal development, a concept that’s enshrined in Mexico’s constitution. Using the same logic as the Supreme Court’s marijuana decision, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs have a right to use cocaine so long as it’s just for fun or personal growth.
“The consumption of cocaine doesn’t put one’s health in great risk, except in the case that it’s used chronically and excessively,” the judge wrote. The ruling was issued in May but only came to light this week.
“Ingestion can have various results, including alleviating tension, intensification of perceptions and the desire for new personal and spiritual experiences,” the judge said.
The decision is being appealed to a circuit court, and could make its way to Mexico’s Supreme Court. Even if it’s upheld, it won’t become the law of the land. Unlike the U.S., Mexican law requires the Supreme Court to hand down similar rulings in at least four other cases.
The ruling “opens a small hole in the prohibitionist armor,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with a Mexican consulting firm, the Group of Economists and Associates.
But he warned that convincing the Supreme Court to legalize cocaine is a far cry from legalizing pot.
“There is no home production of cocaine. This is not something that you can grow on your lawn.”
The push to legalize cocaine is controversial, to say the least.
“There is an appalling lack of strategy here,” said Jaime López-Aranda, a security analyst in Mexico City who supports the legalization of marijuana. “Nobody in their right mind would defend cocaine recreational use. It kind of pisses on the whole movement.”
Despite its limited scope, the ruling raises the prospect of a different approach to drugs and security in Mexico. More than 20,000 people have been killed and 40,000 disappeared since 2006, when Mexico’s then-president Felipe Calderón launched a war on drugs. This year Mexico is on pace to have the most murders on record.
Meanwhile, drug production and sales are soaring. While most of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. comes from Colombia, Mexican cartels have huge tentacles in the Colombian drug market, where production reached a record high in 2017, according to the United Nations.
Experts are divided on whether legalizing personal use of small amounts of cocaine would have a material impact on Mexico’s soaring violence.
Madrazo, the Mexico City professor on drug policy, said it would have a “huge impact” because Mexican law enforcement could turn their attention and resources to other issues, like homicides and kidnapping.
But David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego and an expert on organized crime, said rival criminal organizations trying to get their product into the U.S. market is driving corruption and violence — and that won’t stop.
“Giving people the individual right to consume cocaine in Mexico is not going to change that dynamic.”
Cover: A police officer holds what he suspects is cocaine, during a search for weapons and drugs at the prison of Acapulco, Guerrero State, Mexico, on January 11, 2014. (Photo: Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)