Mexico issues first permit to grow and use marijuana

Mexico City (AFP) - Mexican health authorities issued Friday the first permit allowing four individuals to grow and smoke their own marijuana, but none actually plans to consume the drug.

While the permit opens a crack in Mexico's prohibitionist policies, the government health watchdog Cofepris stressed that the authorization is limited to those four people only.

The foursome, who secured the authorization in a historic Supreme Court ruling last month, hope that their victory will force Mexico to legalize marijuana.

The group, part of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use (SMART), says decriminalizing pot will help reduce the country's relentless drug cartel violence.

"We didn't do this to get the right (to consume) for ourselves but to change a public policy that has been extremely costly for the country," said Armando Santacruz, an accountant and one of the four who won the case.

Their legal victory has prompted others to seek similar permits while forcing President Enrique Pena Nieto and Congress to debate whether to change the country's marijuana laws.

"The goal is to change the policy, not to promote consumption," Juan Francisco Torres Landa, an attorney and member of the foursome, told reporters outside Cofepris's office.

"We will set an example and we will not consume (marijuana) because we have enough information to take a responsible decision. But it will be based on our own conviction, not on threats from the state."

- More legal battles -

Cofepris underlined in a statement that under the current laws, marijuana "is still an illegal substance" and its cultivation and sale remain forbidden.

But the four SMART members are allowed to "sow, grow, harvest, prepare, possess, transport and consume marijuana for recreational uses," Cofepris said.

They are not permitted, however, to sell it to other people or use marijuana in front of children, pregnant women "or people who do not give their consent."

Since the court ruling, Cofepris has been flooded by 155 requests for permits to grow marijuana for personal use, said the agency's advisor Patricio Caso, who expects all those requests to be rejected under the current laws.

The goal for many applicants is to challenge the rejections at the Supreme Court because four more victories like SMART's will set a legal precedent.

- National debate -

While Pena Nieto has repeatedly voiced his opposition to legalization, he has convened experts to a national debate in several states between January and March to decide potential new regulations.

Congress, meanwhile, is discussing a bill that would legalize imports and consumption of medical marijuana.

But most Mexicans are opposed to legalization. A poll by El Universal newspaper following the court ruling found that two thirds oppose it.

Legalization has caught on elsewhere in the region.

Uruguay has created a regulated market for pot.

In Chile, Congress is debating a law to legalize its recreational while President Michelle Bachelet authorized the sale of cannabis-based medication.

Colombia is also in the process of legalizing and regulating medical marijuana.

In the United States -- the biggest consumer of drugs from Mexico -- 23 states have legalized medical marijuana use, while four states plus the capital city have legalized its recreational use.