Mexico court ruling sparks high hopes for weed legalization

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CNBC Update: Mexico to Legalize Marijuana?

Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the green light to growing marijuana for recreational use in a landmark decision that could lead to legalization in a country with a bloody history of conflict with drug cartels.

SEE MORE:The dark side of pot you don't always hear about

Supporters of reform sparked up joints to hail the court's decision, which, while not legalizing use of marijuana, is one the boldest steps ever taken in that direction in a country long reluctant to liberalize drug laws.

"We've seen how drug policy and prohibition have only helped drug traffickers rake in money and commit terrible crimes to control drug markets," said 27-year-old Meliton Gonzalez, one activist celebrating outside the court.

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Mexico court ruling sparks high hopes for weed legalization
A man takes part in a rally supporting the legalization of marijuana in front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on November 4, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court opened the door to the recreational use of marijuana on Wednesday, giving a group of activists permission to grow and smoke their own pot in a historic ruling. AFP PHOTO / ALFREDO ESTRELLA (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl smokes a joint during a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A man takes part in a rally supporting the legalization of marijuana in front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on November 4, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court opened the door to the recreational use of marijuana on Wednesday, giving a group of activists permission to grow and smoke their own pot in a historic ruling. AFP PHOTO / ALFREDO ESTRELLA (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl smokes a joint during a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A young man smokes a joint during a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl smokes a joint during a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl makes a joint during a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Four girls participate in a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Activists participate in a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Activists participate in a rally in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on October 28, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday began discussing the possibility of depenalizing marijuana for recreative use. A group of citizens who created the Sociedad Mexicana de Autoconsumo Responsable y Tolerante (Smart) organization lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court for the depenalization of marijuana for no profit uses. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Artist and marijuana legalization activist Pedro Alfa Basauri, dressed as a doctor who prescribes marijuana, stands outside Mexico's Supreme Court as he shows his support for a case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on recreational use in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The court postponed for at least one week the scheduled debate which could open the way for Mexicans to grow and smoke marijuana recreationally. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Marijuana legalization activists smoke in the portico of a government building across the street from Mexico's Supreme Court, as they show their support for a case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on recreational use, in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The court postponed for at least one week the scheduled debate which could open the way for Mexicans to grow and smoke marijuana recreationally. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A passerby stops to bum a smoke from marijuana legalization activists, outside Mexico's Supreme Court which was scheduled to discuss a case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on recreational use in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The court postponed for at least one week the planned debate, which could open the way for Mexicans to grow and smoke marijuana recreationally. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Marijuana legalization activists hold signs that read in Spanish: "Yes to home growing, cannabis without censure," as they protest outside Mexico's Supreme Court in support of a case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on recreational use, in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The court postponed for at least one week the scheduled debate which could open the way for Mexicans to grow and smoke marijuana recreationally. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A marijuana legalization activist smokes in the portico of a government building across the street from Mexico's Supreme Court, to show support for a case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on recreational use, in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The court postponed for at least one week the scheduled debate which could open the way for Mexicans to grow and smoke marijuana recreationally. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A man takes part in a rally supporting the legalization of marijuana in front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on November 4, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court opened the door to the recreational use of marijuana on Wednesday, giving a group of activists permission to grow and smoke their own pot in a historic ruling. AFP PHOTO / ALFREDO ESTRELLA (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a rally supporting the legalization of marijuana in front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico City on November 4, 2015. Mexico's Supreme Court opened the door to the recreational use of marijuana on Wednesday, giving a group of activists permission to grow and smoke their own pot in a historic ruling. AFP PHOTO / ALFREDO ESTRELLA (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of the legalization of marijuana smokes outside the Supreme Court in Mexico City, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Mexico's court ruled Wednesday that growing, possessing and smoking marijuana for recreation are legal under a person's right to personal freedoms. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
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More decisions of the same kind could set a legal precedent in Mexico, which has suffered well over 100,000 deaths due to drug-related crime over the past decade.

Ruling on a case first brought in 2013 by an advocacy group that health regulators stopped from growing plants for private consumption, the court voted 4-1 that prohibiting people from cultivating the drug for personal use was unconstitutional.

Proponents of drug reform argue that criminalizing drugs has only raised their street value and put unnecessary strain on the penal system by filling prisons with low level dealers or people caught with small amounts.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has so far been skeptical about the merits of liberalizing drug laws, responded to the ruling by saying on Twitter it would "open a debate on the best regulation to inhibit drug consumption".

Marijuana, along with cocaine, heroin and crystal meth, has been a major source of income for cartels that authorities say generate billions of dollars worth of sales annually.

As deaths from drug violence increase, political pressure has mounted on Mexico to follow the example of Uruguay and some U.S. states to make its policy on marijuana more liberal.

The decision comes a day after U.S. legalization advocates were dealt a big setback in a lopsided vote in Ohio against allowing pot for both medical and recreational use.

SEE MORE: Where the presidential candidates stand on legalizing marijuana

Giving cautious backing to liberalizing usage, Judge Jose Ramon Cossio said Mexico would need to overhaul its laws as the Supreme Court took what he described as an "important step toward legalization of drugs, or at least some of them."

Production and sale of marijuana is illegal in Mexico. Still, in 2009, the country made it legal to carry up to 5 grams (0.18 ounce) of marijuana, 500 milligrams (0.018 ounce) of cocaine and tiny amounts of heroin and methamphetamine.

The court's decision could hasten efforts by Mexico's states to change their drug laws, which have so far yet to advance beyond limited debate over the use of medical marijuana.

In August, a lower court in Mexico granted a mother and father the right to import a marijuana-based medicine to treat their 8-year-old daughter's epilepsy.

Last year Pena Nieto hinted that he was adopting a more liberal stance on marijuana, saying that Mexico and the United States could not pursue diverging policies on the issue.

(Writing by Dave Graham and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Christian Plumb)


See more special coverage:
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