Mexico authorizes importing of medical marijuana for first time

Health authorities allow family of eight-year-old with rare disease to purchase cannabis oil

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Raúl Elizalde and his eight-year-old daughter Graciela.
Raúl Elizalde and his eight-year-old daughter Graciela.CARLOS RAMIREZ (AFP)

Graciela Elizalde is an eight-year-old child from Monterrey, in Mexico’s northern Nuevo León state, who suffers hundreds of epileptic seizures every day.

Graciela, or Grace as she is affectionately called, has just won a victory that may make Mexicans reopen the debate over the use of cannabis.

The case has even attracted sympathy from former critics of marijuana legalization. On Tuesday, a country that has suffered the effects of drug traffickers’ violence for years authorized the importation of a marijuana oil for Graciela’s epilepsy treatment.

There are many other people waiting for the country to open up to the therapeutic use of marijuana”

Aram Barra, lobbyist for drug legalization

“Authorities have realized that they have to move forward on the therapeutic use of cannabis, either  the easy way or the hard way,” says Aram Barra, an activist who promotes the legalization of drugs. “And it seems like they are doing it the easy way.”

Barra, who has followed Graciela’s case closely, is part of a lobby that has met with senators and health secretary Mercedes Juan to push for drug legalization.

On Tuesday, Barra joined Raúl Elizalde, the girl’s father, at the offices of the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (COFEPRIS), where Commissioner Mikel Arriola signed the petition to import the medication, which could arrive in Mexico next week.

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“The commissioner told us that they will do this with all the cases that come with a medical prescription,” Barra says.

Graciela’s case brings up a paradox in Mexico’s policy on marijuana. Officials responsible for  importing the medicine wanted to help, but marijuana and its derivatives are on a federal list of banned substances. To prescribe it is a federal crime. “Doctors do not prescribe it because they would lose their licenses,” Barra says.

District judge Martín Sánchez will protect Graciela from legal sanction under two conditions: she must have a medical prescription for the medicine she needs, and the marijuana or derivatives used for her treatment must be purchased legally.

The judge also provided legal protection for Dr Saúl Garza Morales, director of the neuroscience department at the National Perinatal Institute, who is willing to write the prescription.

The medicine Graciela will use is manufactured legally in four countries. Her family is analyzing the different varieties available in the United States, the UK, Canada and Israel. The oil is extracted from a variety of the cannabis plant sometimes referred to as Charlotte’s Web, which was named after Charlotte Figi, a girl with Dravet syndrome who also suffered epileptic seizures like Graciela.

A worker at an Israeli hothouse that grows cannabis for medical purposes.
A worker at an Israeli hothouse that grows cannabis for medical purposes.Menahem Kahana (AFP)

Cannabis producers in Colorado have developed a plant with a high level of cannabidiol but with less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive substance associated with the drug’s recreational use. Dr Garza will decide which version of the medicine is most appropriate for Graciela’s case.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the goodwill of those helping Graciela will have an impact on Congress, the only body with the power to legalize cannabis.

“This is not the only case in the country,” Barra says. “There are many other people waiting for the country to open up to the therapeutic use of marijuana.”

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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