By Gabriel Stargardter
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The legalization of marijuana is inevitable in drug-scarred Mexico following a key court ruling, former President Vicente Fox says, forecasting that even drugs such as cocaine, heroin and crystal meth will be legally available within a decade.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court gave approval to growing marijuana for recreational use, a landmark decision that blasts open the door for an eventual legalization in Mexico, where warring gangs sparked a decade of drug violence.
"It's now irreversible ... This will lead to legalization," Fox, who was president between 2000 and 2006 and became an advocate of legalizing drugs after leaving office, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Fox said now the court has ruled it is unconstitutional to prevent people from smoking marijuana, it would eventually have to make a similar decision for drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
"I think marijuana (legalization) is a first step," he said. "The other drugs will take a longer cycle, say five to 10 years."
In a 2013 interview, Fox told Reuters he believed Mexico could legalize pot by the end of current President Enrique Pena Nieto's six-year term in 2018, which had seemed far-fetched to many at the time, but now appears possible.
Pena Nieto, who has repeatedly said he is against legalization, has called for a national policy debate on the issue.
Last week, Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa, the government official overseeing a review of marijuana policy, said questions such as easing custodial sentences and raising the amount of the drug that people can carry will be considered.
Fox said he had no interest in commercializing marijuana himself once legalized but expected major agribusinesses to be interested.
"If they regulate freely so you can produce to export, the big guys are going to jump in," he said, adding that NAFTA-style regulations would be needed if both Mexico and the United States eventually legalize marijuana.
Possessing and consuming tiny amounts of drugs including marijuana and cocaine were decriminalized in 2009 in Mexico. The U.S. states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and the District of Columbia have all legalized pot use.
But it is still early days for federal legalization in both countries, Fox said.
"(U.S. President Barack) Obama has to resolve his things over there and Pena Nieto has to make sure he sorts out this problem here," Fox said. "Everything in good time."
(Editing by Simon Gardner and Bill Trott)