By Frank Jack Daniel
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico City residents should be free to grow marijuana for personal use, a mayoral hopeful told Reuters on Wednesday, arguing that one of the world's largest cities should lead the charge to end prohibition in a country riven by drug violence.
The proposal would bring Mexico City in line with a global trend toward legalizing cannabis use, Salomon Chertorivski said in an interview, a few days after California launched legal sales of the drug for recreational use.
"My proposal is the legalization of private cultivation for personal consumption, not for sale, in homes in Mexico City," said the center-left Chertorivski, a former federal health minister and Mexico City government official who is one of three candidates seeking the ticket for a left-right coalition ahead of a mayoral election.
Opinion polls show the alliance in second place behind the left-wing Morena party, which has already chosen its likely candidate for the July 1 election.
Drug use should be a public health rather than a criminal matter, the 43-year-old Chertorivski said, adding that Mexico City should take a "step-by-step" approach rather than follow the example of Portugal, which has decriminalized the use of hard drugs.
Mexico City, a megalopolis whose urban sprawl comprises more than 20 million people, has been at the vanguard of a shift in Mexico to more socially liberal laws in recent years. It led the way for several Mexican states to allow same-sex marriage, and was first to offer women abortions in most cases.
"I am sure that this discussion will have the same luck," Chertorivski said.
Mexico has softened its drug laws in recent years, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of several drugs, although it retains harsh penalties for larger quantities.
Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited, but in 2015 the Supreme Court granted four plaintiffs the right to grow their own marijuana for personal consumption on human rights grounds. The country legalized the use of marijuana for medical and scientific needs in June.
Those milestones have helped stir debate in Mexico, where violent drug cartels have contributed to a death toll of at least 140,000 people over the past decade.
Chertorivski said legalizing cultivation would take business away from illegal gangs and keep marijuana users from drifting into criminal activity. He also proposed more than doubling the minimum wage to reduce crime.
Despite the trend toward legalization north of the border, cartels still make millions of dollars from smuggling marijuana into the United States.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)