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20 juni 2017

Mexican Congress Approves Use of Medical Cannabis

In April 2017, the Mexican Congress voted, by a large majority, in favor of a bill that legalizes the medical and scientific use, production and distribution of cannabis. The new law acknowledges the therapeutic properties of THC. Mexico has given a very important step on the path to tolerance in the interests of Mexicans’ health.

On Friday, April 28, 2017, the House of Representatives of Mexico, approved, by a large majority, a bill that legalizes the medical and scientific use of cannabis, as well as its production and distribution for such purposes. The approval of this initiative promoted by Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto – who continues to struggle with the very serious problem that is drug trafficking- introduces the reforms to the General Health Law and the Penal Code passed by the Senate in December.

New Bill Regulates Medical and Cannabis Use Only

The House of Representatives of Mexico informed in a press release that “the bill removes the ban and the criminalization of acts related to the medical use of marihuana and its scientific research and of those who are concerned with its production and distribution for such purposes.” This bill had already been approved by the Senate in December 2016 as a result of the initiative by the federal executive presented to the House at the beginning of April earlier that year.

The new law, which passed in a general floor vote with 371 in favor, 7 against and 11 abstentions, was then sent to the Mexican president for its enactment and publication in the Diario Oficial de la Federacion (DOF). Once it enters into force, the growing, harvesting, derivative production, buying and supplying of cannabis with therapeutic purposes or for scientific research, will be allowed in Mexico.

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The same press release states that the Department of Health has been asked to work on the development of public policies for the regulation of medical cannabis use and its pharmacological derivatives – which include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in addition to its isomers and its stereochemical variants. At the same time, this department will be in charge of creating a regulation for the research and national production of such substances, in addition to granting permits for the importation of cannabis and its derivatives.

Members of the National Action Party (abbreviated to PAN in Spanish), of a conservative leaning, entered reservations to modify the text, but these were refused by the rest of the parties. It is important to highlight that both the PAN and the Democratic Revolution Party (abbreviated to PRD in Spanish) wanted to allow the use of recreational cannabis, which for now is still pending.

Until today, in Mexico, after the reform made to the previous law in April 2017 was made, possession of up to 28 grams of marihuana for medical and personal use will not be considered a crime – this is one of the measures taken by the executive to step away from the punitive and prohibitionist policies product of the so-called War Against Drugs.

Acknowledgment of the Therapeutic Value of THC

Through the new reforms introduced in the new law, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is established and recognized as a “psychotropic substance with therapeutic properties”  that poses no public health risks, as long as the concentrations of isomers are 1% or lower. Hence, cannabis derivatives with concentrations of 1% or under, and products made for industrial use, “could be commercialized, exported, and imported” based on health regulation.

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Cannabis is therefore withdrawn from the “forbidden plant” category, enabling this way its sowing, growing, processing, harvesting, purchasing, possession, marketing, transportation, supplying for “medical and scientific reasons,” as long as the terms and conditions specified by the executive are followed.

This is a great step forward. Mexico had already legalized Cannabidiol or CBD, but this was a shy move which ended up being insufficient for patients. The problem was that only importation of CBD medicine was allowed, but local production was forbidden – as a result, the cost of imported medicine, most of it coming from the United States, proved to be extremely expensive for the patients, and the majority of them could not afford the treatment needed.

A Law Promoted by the President and the Citizen Movement

Peña Nieto’s legislative initiative – also known as the “Marihuana Mx Initiative”– is the result of a process largely supported and promoted by Mexican patients and by the general population since 2015. It was then that the case of a girl named Grace, made the headlines after her parents, a couple from northern Mexico, won a legal battle to obtain and use cannabidiol as a medical cannabis derivative for their daughter.

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The little Grace Elizalde Benavides suffers from the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare and serious form of childhood epilepsy, which made her have many seizures a day. The girl’s condition improved dramatically and the seizures were considerably less frequent since she started taking medical cannabis.

It was this the reason why her parents fought with all their strength to be able to get her the medicine that could dramatically improve her quality of life. The great impact that this case had on the population opened the debate among a citizenry that seemed in favor of using cannabis in medical cases, and it made the president take an active role in the implementation of this law.

In 2015 the historic Supreme Court’s ruling that authorized four members of the SMART association to grow, possess  and use marihuana for personal consumption, took place. The court based its decision on the view that the national laws that made such activities illegal violate the fundamental human rights of Mexicans, which implies that the absolute prohibition of cannabis is unconstitutional. This incident heated up the debate – at the social and political levels – among those in favor and those against the legalization of cannabis at the federal level.

Not to be forgotten, there have been important and profound changes to advance cannabis regulation globally and in the United States – Mexico’s almighty neighbor responsible for the prohibition of cannabis and the war against drugs. This is a paradoxical fact considering that more than half the states in the US have legalized medical cannabis, and nine others have legalized its recreational use.

Even more paradoxically absurd is the fact that the US is currently financing the two opposing sides of this failed war. On the one hand, it provides help to governments and their security forces to fight drug trade, and on the other, American cannabis users that buy from black markets end up financing drug gangs. This is a vicious circle that Peña Nieto’s new policies are trying to end.

Tackling Drug trafficking and Its Consequences

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Mexico is one the largest cannabis producers in Latin America, in addition to being one of the most violent countries in the world.  The war against drugs, which has been taking place for many years, intensified in 2006 with the strategy that the Felipe Calderón’s administration implemented – it brought a wave of violence, which has left more than 177.000 dead and 30.000 people missing, according to official numbers.

The Peña Nieto’s administration continues to fight violence and the enormous power of the drug cartels – which today operate in the fashion of large multinationals- that clearly illustrate the tremendous failure of prohibition and the war against drugs. With all this on the plate, it is very difficult for Mexico to obtain the same achievements or move forward at the same pace of its North American neighbor. The situation would be worsened if someone would suddenly decide to build a wall between the two countries. (humour aside!)

It should be noted that representatives of the executive branch have themselves publicly admitted that their proposal may seem limited, and even contradictory, something they blame media pressure and public opinion for.

A divided and very contradictory public opinion indeed. The most recent surveys done in this Central American country on medical and recreational cannabis use indicate that 72.4% of those interviewed are in favor of medical cannabis legalization while 76.2% were against recreational cannabis legalization.

Regardless of the progress that has taken place in Mexico in the last years, public opinion remains quite conservative with respect to the legalization of the cannabis plant.  Even though the social general perception about cannabis has evolved – and despite the openness of the debate – a large part of the Mexican population continues to associate cannabis legalization with cannabis drug dealers.

Another Step Forward for Cannabis in Mexico

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There are many steps still to be taken on the road towards humanizing drug policy – in general, of cannabis, and concretely – at the global level. Nonetheless, there is no question that Mexico has finally taken an active stand. The reform introduced by the members of congress for the benefit of public health can greatly contribute to improve the quality of life of many patients. At any rate, despite legislative progress, the executive branch still needs to regulate many practical aspects such as personal cultivation, licensing, decriminalization of cannabis growing and use. The development of events will need be closely followed to see how this law takes form in practice. There are many steps still to be taken – such as the much sought possibility of the total legalization of cannabis in Mexico – and they need to be taken in the right direction.

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