Latin America

Mexico’s Senate begins medical marijuana debate

Ruling PRI party lawmaker seeks to change the country’s import laws for epileptic patients

Pablo Ferri
Grace Elizalde, a young girl who has epilepsy, was allowed by a Mexican court to begin taking a marijuana-based syrup for her seizures.
Grace Elizalde, a young girl who has epilepsy, was allowed by a Mexican court to begin taking a marijuana-based syrup for her seizures.Esteban Felix (AP)

Just a week after the Mexican Supreme Court gave an organization the right to grow and use marijuana for recreational use, Mexico’s Senate has begun discussions on whether to allow medical patients to use pharmaceutical products made with the drug.

On Tuesday, Senator Cristina Díaz, of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), filed a bill that would allow people with epilepsy to import a marijuana-based syrup that is said to alleviate symptoms brought on by their condition.

What is urgent at this moment is to import the syrup” Senator Cristina Díaz

“What is urgent right now is to import the syrup,” Díaz said during a news conference in front of about 30 families who have loved ones suffering from epilepsy.

“I am not trying to open the possibility of steering this initiative down another path. We will see what society says in the future. What is important at this moment in time is that we get these medicines.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto said he doesn’t agree with legalization of marijuana but explained that Mexico needed to immediately begin debating the issue following the Supreme Court’s historic ruling.

“Discussions have to be broad and specialized where sociologists, doctors, academics and others who are experts in this issue can take part,” the president said on Monday.

Mexico is expected to take an official position by next April so it can present its conclusions at an upcoming UN drug conference.

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On November 4, the first criminal chamber of Mexico’s Supreme Court voted 4-1 to allow a cannabis group to grow, cultivate and transport marijuana for its own use. However, the group was not granted the right to sell plants.

Although the historic ruling only applies to one small organization, it paves the way for other Mexican citizens to seek government permits to use marijuana for recreational purposes.

Senator Díaz’s bill is aimed at changing clauses in health and import laws so that patients with certain needs can obtain marijuana-based products with a doctor’s prescription.

One couple, Raúl Elizalde and Mayela Benavides, who were at the senator’s news conference, were successful in seeking a court order – the first in Mexico – that allowed them to purchase the syrup known as Cannabidol for their young daughter.

The girl suffers from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a type of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of convulsions each day. Although she began taking the syrup three weeks ago, it is still too early to say whether it has been effective. But her father said that in the past few days her convulsions have dropped by 15%.

Changes in the laws will allow the import of other similar marijuana-based products

“There are more than 5,000 people in Mexico who suffer from convulsions that are difficult to control,” Raúl said. “The syrup could be the answer. We invite all the political parties to stand together to back this initiative.”

If approved, the changes in the laws will allow the import and use of other similar products. However, their manufacturing on Mexican soil will still be prohibited.

In an interview, Senator Díaz said that her proposal will be discussed at the committee-level and was hopeful that it will be approved before Congress recesses on December 15.

“We have to understand that cannabis was being used for medicinal purposes before Christianity,” said Díaz, who has acknowledged that her initiative has been met with “resistance” by other senators who fear it will “open the road” for other marijuana measures.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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