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Marijuana Is A Step Closer To Being Decriminalized In Mexico

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Mexico's Supreme Court says public health laws that forbid personal use of marijuana are unconstitutional. This ruling is the latest from Mexico's high court in a long-running standoff with lawmakers who have been dragging their feet on decriminalizing pot. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City, proponents of recreational use of marijuana are not celebrating quite yet.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Twenty-five-year-old Sergio Valenti is getting ready to go to work. He drives tourists around downtown Mexico City. But first, he's rolling a joint.

SERGIO VALENTI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I'm going to smoke a fat one," Valenti says in a small park right in front of Mexico's federal Senate building. Proponents of marijuana legalization have been growing pot in this plaza and lighting up for more than a year. While many like Valenti are glad the Supreme Court ruled that marijuana use is a constitutional right, he complains that lawmakers still haven't passed the necessary laws to make sure that right is respected.

VALENTI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "For me, it's like it's still not legal. Nothing is legal yet," says Valenti. And he's right. Mexico's high court said yesterday that two federal health laws banning personal consumption and home cultivation are unconstitutional, but they left criminal penalties in place. Frida Ibarra of the nongovernmental group Mexico United Against Crime, says there isn't the political will to fully decriminalize marijuana.

FRIDA IBARRA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We need to redirect government resources," she says, "and fight real crimes and criminals in Mexico like kidnappers and murderers, not small-time marijuana users." Protester Pepe Rivera lives in a tent in the pot plaza with his dog Gallo, slang for joint in Spanish, and his two chickens, Mari and Juana. He says lawmakers continue to ignore the Supreme Court.

PEPE RIVERA: Because they don't understand that it's a human rights issue.

KAHN: He says the country must stop treating marijuana like it's a problem.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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