Members of Congress called Monday for changing Mexico's punitive marijuana laws at hearings on the use of the plant, whose cultivation and use were approved by the Supreme Court for four citizens last year.

"We have the challenge of proposing an alternative to the problem of the illegal market for marijuana and its negative consequences. Or remain as we are, running the risk of compromising the health, security and dignity of people," the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Jesus Zambrano, said at the start of the session.

Anti-drug policy around the world has been based on punishment, Zambrano, a member of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, said.

This approach has resulted in "unusual consequences," such as the appearance of new drugs, the growth of organized crime groups and human rights violations, among other negative effects, Zambrano said.

Congress must take immediate action to define the national position on cannabis legalization in the wake of the Supreme Court's historic ruling to allow four citizens to use marijuana for recreational purposes, the lawmaker said.

Senate president Roberto Gil, for his part, said Mexico's current policy was "punitive and prohibitionist," and "is not working."

"We can't continue like this with the status quo, we have to use our imagination and take political responsibility to make the best decisions for Mexico," Gil, a member of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, said.

The hearings, which will be held in the two houses of Congress on an alternating basis until mid-February, should be used to "build public policies" that "help remediate the damage and consequences" from Mexico's illegal drug market, Gil said.

On Dec. 11, health officials authorized the cultivation and recreational use of marijuana by four people who won a case heard by the Supreme Court. EFE