Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto has promised a major national debate to decide the country's position on marijuana legalization, the week after the country's supreme court granted four individuals the permission to cultivate and use the drug.
Peña Nieto instructed the country's interior ministry to organize the debate he said would include experts from multiple disciplines and will define Mexico's stance at next spring's United Nations global drug policy summit as well as the country's own specific policies on the issue.
While he laid out his own personal opposition to legalization — arguing that marijuana consumption leads to harder drugs — the president said he could be persuaded to change his mind.
"I am not the owner of the truth," Peña Nieto said. "I am open to listening to well-documented positions that are scientifically sustainable and could lead to a different position."
Mexico's historic supreme court decision last Wednesday was based primarily on the argument that the four people named in the case — pro-legalization activists who do not themselves use marijuana — should be allowed to harm themselves by using the drug if they want to, as long as they do not impact others. The ruling also highlighted what it called the "disproportionality" of the sanctions associated with marijuana consumption compared to equally or more damaging activities such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.
"Marijuana is harmful to health," Peña Nieto said, "but from the human rights perspective you cannot stop anybody, specifically the four people in the case, from using their freedom to consume it if they want."
While the president has previously said he favors a debate on drug policy, he has never before actively promoted one. Reactions to his speech suggested the issue could turn into a minefield.
"I'm against legalization because I believe it would cause more violence, look at where we are now, I'm afraid things could get even worse," Eduardo González, a doctor who specializes in addiction recovery, told VICE News. González said he feared Peña Nieto's debate would lead to a more liberal policy that would intensify the already horrifying turf wars between Mexico's drug cartels
The president's promise of a debate, meanwhile, was greeted with skepticism by some of those in favour of legalization.
"For me debate is a code word for saying that the government is not going to do anything," said Armando Santacruz, one of the four people behind the supreme court case. "This subject has been on the table for over 50 years. This is something that should have been done a long time ago."
According to an opinion poll released earlier this month carried out by the company Parametría, 77 percent of Mexicans oppose legalization in general, though over half support the idea of allowing the use of marijuana for medical reasons. The newspaper El Universal published a telephone poll this Tuesday in which 60 percent of those questioned did not support the supreme court ruling.
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