SMART’s argument for sanctioning marijuana use isn’t entirely unprecedented. Several cases concerning drug possession in Canada have invoked human-rights language, according to Hannah Hetzer, who focuses on the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that opposes the U.S.-led “war on drugs.” A 1994 constitutional court case in Colombia also leveraged the language of the “free development of personality” in arguing against the criminalization of drug use. But for the most part, Hetzer told me, “human rights or liberty have formed part of the argument, not the basis for the whole argument, so this case [in Mexico] is pretty unusual.”
Does that mean the novel argument could gain traction outside Mexico? The right to the “free development of personality” appears in Article 22 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a fellow at the Comparative Constitutions Project and an Atlantic contributor, the countries in the Americas that incorporate the UN declaration into their constitutions include Belize, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Peru. The United States has no such provision. Lansberg-Rodriguez added that any motion to legalize marijuana elsewhere in Latin America would be more likely to come via legislation or the writing of a new constitution than via a decision like the Mexican Supreme Court’s. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the civil-law codes that predominate in the region do not lend themselves to judicial interpretation, he said.
Hetzer nevertheless believes that the Mexican ruling was “symbolically monumental … because it was argued on human-rights grounds and because it’s coming out of Mexico, which has a certain legitimacy when it’s talking about drug policy.”
“It’s one thing if Uruguay decides to legalize marijuana, where they’re not as affected by drug trafficking and the drug trade; it’s another when Mexico or Colombia stands up and says, ‘We have tried everything. This approach hasn’t worked, so now we’re going to look for alternative approaches,’” she argued.
Hetzer added that in Latin America alone, initiatives to reform marijuana laws are being debated in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Given that Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has pledged to legalize marijuana, and that legalizing weed is on the 2016 ballot in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, you could say reform is on the agenda for the entire hemisphere. Few countries may declare smoking weed a human right, but they may end up in the same place as Mexico just the same.