Mexico can look to these countries for marijuana decriminalization precedents

(Photo: Getty Images) Pro-marijuana activists outside the Mexican Supreme Court.

The Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling this week legalizing marijuana use is limited to four plaintiffs. However, the decision is expected to open the door to many similar lawsuits seeking to overturn restrictions on use of the still controversial drug.

Opponents argue marijuana has several negative effects, especially on susceptible young people.

In recent decades, a number of countries have implemented changes in law that significantly reduce the extent of criminalization of marijuana use. Mexico may be able to look to these countries for what — and what not — to do in respect to legalization.

Photo: Getty Images Pro-marijuana activists outside the Mexican Supreme Court.
Photo: Getty Images
Pro-marijuana activists outside the Mexican Supreme Court.



The Dutch were the “pioneers” in this field, and they made major policy changes in the 1970s and 1980s. The 1970s change, following the recommendations of two very prominent commissions (the Baan and Huilsman Commissions), allowed for the distribution of cannabis (including hashish as well as marijuana) under tight controls.

The notion was that this would aid the separation of markets for soft and hard drugs. The restrictions concerned both the quantities which could be sold without intervention and the locations in which the sale could take place.

The quantity that could be purchased was initially set at a maximum of 30 grams (approximately one ounce). In 1996 that was reduced to 5 grams. As discussed elsewhere, even that lower quantity is more than enough to supply the average user for a week.

The Dutch have never permitted the production of marijuana, though police policy is to ignore instances in which an individual is growing five plants or fewer at home.


The innovations in Australia are more overt, in that the law was explicitly changed, but less radical. Starting with South Australia, a smallish state, in 1987, four Australian jurisdictions have removed criminal penalties for growing a small number of plants. The activity is not legal but is punished only by payment of a fine. Initially South Australia set the limit at 10 plants.

Once it became clear that this was far more than needed to supply an individual, the number for which only civil penalties could be imposed was reduced to three and then to one, not to be grown hydroponically. The three other Australian jurisdictions that have also adopted similar legal changes (Australian Capital Territory [1992], Northern Territory [1996] and Western Australia [2004]) have slightly different quantity limits. For example the Northern Territory allows up to two plants, which can be hydroponically grown. The fines when detected range from $A50 to $A200.

The Australian regime change is almost exactly the converse of that in the Netherlands. In the Australian jurisdictions, it is the growing which has been facilitated; sale is still subject to criminal penalty, though gifts by growers to friends are not subject to any penalty. In the Netherlands the growing is still subject to the regular criminal penalties (even when small quantities are involved) but there are licensed sellers.

The rationale for the Australian innovations was that the removal of criminal penalties for possession (as occurred simultaneously in the each state) were meaningless without similar relaxations on the supply side. The restriction to home cultivation of small quantities was intended to prevent the development of a commercial market.


On Dec. 10, 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana, but they’re doing things a little differently.

Private citizens are allowed to cultivate up to six plants in their houses and can form private grow clubs that produce significantly more. However, all sales must go through the federal government, which is supposed to set up a network of dispensaries and determine prices.

Each customer must register with a database run by the Ministry of Health and will be restricted to buying 40 grams (about 1.4 ounces) per month, more than most actually consume. To attract customers, the price will be set at about $1 a gram, which is close to the street price of illicit marijuana imported from Paraguay. Smoking marijuana on the job remains illegal, as does operating any kind of vehicle while high. Violators will be punished with fines ranging from $2 to $87, with other penalties including the destruction of weed stashes and expulsion from the registry. Citizens are free to grow their own marijuana under the other exemptions set up by the law.

Photo: Marijuana legalization is still controversial.
Marijuana legalization is still controversial.


The South American nation of Ecuador, which shares a continent with the only country on Earth to have fully legalized cannabis in Uruguay, may be on its way to legalizing marijuana itself. The country has a long and rich history, filled with issues resulting from the international drug trade, and subsequent War on Drugs. Currently, possession of small amounts of cannabis is permitted, if it is for personal use and there is no intent to distribute.

However, the Ecuadorian government could be poised to earn big bucks by legalizing in terms of tax dollars and potential trade revenue. The president has already issued a large number of pardons to drug offenders, possibly giving a glimpse into a more relaxed attitude toward controlled substances.

Judge of the Mexican Supreme Court Arturo Zaldivar (Photo:
Judge of the Mexican Supreme Court Arturo Zaldivar (Photo:


The Czech Republic, located in central Europe, is still getting a grasp on its newly minted medical marijuana law, which was passed in early 2013. Many people are still having a hard time actually finding medicine to help cope with their medical needs, but it seems that the situation is improving.

There is also widespread decriminalization, in which Czech citizens are allowed to grow up to five plants, or be in possession of certain amounts of cannabis without fear of being criminally prosecuted. Czech drug policy has been undergoing rapid change over the past few years, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if full legalization is pushed through, or at least considered, in the near future.

After all, Prague isn’t earning the title of ‘New Amsterdam‘ for nothing.

Certain places in Spain have also been called ‘The New Amsterdam‘ due to their high concentration of private cannabis clubs. Operating in a somewhat gray area within Spanish law, these clubs take advantage of new laws that have decriminalized possession, although the manufacture and sale of cannabis is still illegal.

It appears that Spain is one of the countries that will ride the momentum of the legalization movement, and make more policy moves based on what happens as a result of its decriminalization efforts.

The nation of India may come as a complete surprise to be seen among the many western European and South American nations on this list, but Indians are surprisingly open to the possibility of legalization. The Times of India has even gone on record supporting the idea.

It’s already widely used in many religious ceremonies among the Hindu population, and its use is not enforced as stringently as many might suspect. Not only that, but wild cannabis grow in abundance in many parts of India, making it even harder to regulate.

From America’s southern border to its northern one, Canadians have been able to enjoy relatively more lax marijuana laws compared to the U.S. Places like British Columbia are famous worldwide for supposedly growing some of the finest marijuana in the world, and it is one of the major sources of the plant into the United States. There are a majority of Canadian citizens who want to see the plant legalized, and much of what policymakers decide to do will likely come as a result of how the U.S. handles legalization going forward.






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