Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that growing, possessing and smoking marijuana for personal use are legal under the right to freedom.
The measure was approved in 4-1 vote on the five-justice panel, backing the argument that smoking marijuana is covered under the right of "free development of one’s personality."
At this point, the ruling covers only the plaintiffs in a single case, a group of four people wanting to form a pot club.
The ruling did not approve the sale or commercial production of marijuana nor does it imply a general legalization. But if the court rules the same way on five similar petitions, it would then establish the precedent to change the law and allow general recreational use.
A similar process led to the court’s recent ruling that Mexican laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
"No one has said at all that marijuana is harmless. It is a drug and, as such, it causes damage," said Justice Arturo Zaldivar, who wrote the majority opinion. "What is being resolved here is that total prohibition is a disproportionate measure."
Zaldivar said Wednesday’s ruling would forbid smoking marijuana in front of others without their consent. It is unclear whether public consumption, even by the few people covered by the case, could still be regulated under public nuisance codes as alcohol is. For example, drinking in the street is forbidden in many parts of Mexico.
Health Secretary Mercedes Juan said, "We respect the court’s ruling, although we have different viewpoints."
"We have to see what limits will be," Juan added, referring to maximum allowed quantities and where or how consumption would be allowed.
Moy Schwartzman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case, praised the ruling for making the marijuana debate a personal liberties issue.
"It is the first time that the justices have recognized these types of rights, with this much force," Schwartzman said.
An October opinion survey by the Parametria polling firm said that 77 percent of Mexicans opposed legalizing marijuana, while 20 percent supported the idea. The poll had a margin of error of four percentage points.
In the United States, the states of Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana use. The South American nation of Uruguay adopted a plan to create a legal pot market in 2013.