Activists hope Mexico top court breaks pot ban

Leticia Pineda

Mexico City (AFP) - Mexico's Supreme Court will debate on Wednesday a citizen group's bid to legally consume marijuana, an effort that activists hope will break pot prohibition in a country beset by drug violence.

The legal battle is being waged by the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use, whose Spanish acronym spells "SMART" and which argues that federal laws violate their fundamental right to smoke weed.

While the court's ruling would only apply to SMART, a decision in favor of the cannabis club could open the floodgates for others seeking to legally smoke marijuana in Mexico.

Francisco Torres Landa, a lawyer and member of the organization, said the group wants the ruling to revive a debate in Congress on whether to legalize cannabis.

SMART has sought permission from Mexico's health regulator, Cofepris, to plant, produce and consume marijuana for recreational use.

Cofepris rejected the group's request in 2013, leading to a legal battle that has landed at the top court, where they won the sympathy of one of the justices.

Arturo Zaldivar, considered a liberal member of the court, is proposing that SMART be given permission to grow its own marijuana and consume it for recreational use.

The case will be debated on Wednesday by Zaldivar and four other members of one of the court's chambers.

The chamber could either vote on the proposal or send it up to the full 11-member Supreme Court for another discussion at a later date.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December 2012, has voiced his opposition to the legalization of drugs.

His centrist government inherited a drug war that has raged on for years, leaving tens of thousands of people dead since 2006.

"It would be hard to imagine a worse public policy, with such disastrous results, that has cost the lives of many young people," Torres Landa told AFP.

Pena Nieto's spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, declined to comment, saying that the government was waiting for the court's ruling.

- Activists seek precedent -

Legalization has caught on in other parts of the region.

Uruguay has created a regulated market for pot, while Chile's Congress is debating legislation to legalize the recreational and medical use of marijuana.

Up north, 23 US states and the District of Columbia that houses Washington now allow medical marijuana, and four others plus the US capital have legalized pot for recreational use.

The leftist mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Angel Mancera, said that if the court rules in favor of recreational marijuna, it was "important to have a debate" about it in Congress.

A favorable ruling could unleash a torrent of legal petitions from other pro-pot groups.

"Many of us would file petitions to create a precedent and Cofepris would have to draft a regulation" for consumers, said Fernando Belaunzaran, a leftist former lawmaker who had proposed one of four failed bills in Congress to decriminalize marijuana.

While the Supreme Court debates the issue, an eight-year-old epileptic girl was able to sidestep the country's laws to use medical marijuana.

After a legal fight waged by her parents, the government made an exception for Graciela, allowing her this month to begin using a cannabis oil in a bid to reduce the number of epileptic fits -- 400 -- she endures each day.