The measure was approved in a 4-1 vote on the five-justice panel, backing the argument that smoking marijuana is covered under the right of “free development of 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 legalisation. 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.”
At the same time, the ruling will help legalisation measures being written in Congress, said Moy Schwartzman, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.
“They’re noting this case and using it in their favour to present a law that will be in agreement and will protect people’s rights,” Schwartzman said. “In Mexico, this is a political theme. But the ruling gives importance to human rights, liberty.”
President Enrique Pena Nieto, via his Twitter account, said he recognises and will respect the ruling, adding that he has given his government orders to explain to Mexicans the scope of the ruling.
“This will open up the debate over the best regulation for inhibiting drug consumption, a public health issue,” he wrote. “Mexico has promoted in international forums broadening the discussion.”
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.
“We have to see what limits will be,” said Health Secretary Mercedes Juan, referring to maximum allowed quantities and where or how consumption would be allowed.
Proponents of legalising marijuana staged a low-key demonstration outside the court building, including displaying information on marijuana use and legalisation.