La Yerba es Buena por Mexico

By Benjie Cooper

IG: @nuglifenews

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On August 21, 2009, Mexico began a reversal of domestic cannabis policies that had been in place since the 1920s when the country first banned the plant’s export, production, sale, and recreational use. The change came when President Felipe Calderón signed a controversial law that decriminalized, among other substances, up to five grams of marijuana. The new law specified no penalties other than individuals being encouraged to seek treatment, which became mandatory on the third offense.

On August 17, 2015, a federal judge ruled that the Mexican government could not prevent the parents of 8-year-old Graciela Elizalde Benavides from bringing cannabidiol (CBD) into the country from the United States. Graciela suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. After drugs and surgery had been ineffective at treating Graciela’s condition, her parents sought an amparo, or an injunction, to authorize the importation of the medicine. The judge agreed with the evidence that the family and their lawyer presented and granted them permission to import the cannabis-based medicine.

A year after starting her on the CBD regimen, Graciela’s mother described the drastic improvement in her daughter’s condition on the Por Grace Facebook page. She wrote that “Today marks not only the first year since she started her treatment but also the year in which her life changed, as well as ours. She’s now a little girl who’s more aware of her surroundings and who can even interact with her own sister. I would like to thank God for this opportunity he has given us to provide a better life for our daughter and to be able to share her story with so many people who’ve shown us nothing but support and are so happy to see the positive results. Thank you, everyone who’ve helped make this happen.”

In November of 2015, Mexico’s government once again demonstrated an increasingly progressive stance on marijuana when the Supreme Court’s criminal chamber declared by vote that people should be allowed to cultivate and distribute cannabis for personal use. The ruling did not supersede existing drug laws, but it did set a precedent for future marijuana legislation in the country. The vote was a response to a 2013 case brought forth by four members of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use seeking permission for cultivation. The group stated that they had no intention of growing cannabis, they just wanted to help encourage the government to legalize it.

The most recent step forward was taken on June 19, 2017, when President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a bill legalizing medical cannabis in Mexico. The Senate approved the bill with a decisive 98-7 yes vote in December 2016. It easily passed through Mexico’s lower house of Congress in April with a 374-7 vote before finally coming to the president for his approval. Nieto was formerly a staunch opponent of legal cannabis but changed his stance after holding a nationwide public debate on the subject in 2016. He even introduced a bill to legalize possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, but the measure stalled in Congress. He says, “So far, the solutions implemented by the international community have been frankly insufficient. We must move beyond prohibition to effective prevention.”

With the president’s approval of the new law, the Health Ministry will begin creating the regulatory framework for Mexico’s new medical cannabis industry in December after they have had a chance to research marijuana. For now, the law allows for products that only contain 1% of THC or less.

Whether or not the bill’s passage immediately affects the illegal production of marijuana in the country, the handwriting is on the wall. In Mexico, cannabis is the most commonly used illegal substance and accounts for an estimated 60% of the country’s prison population. With new legislation in place to help protect the medicinal use of cannabis, that number should decrease.

Recreational use laws tend to follow medicinal marijuana legislation, and with the way that things are going, full legalization looks to a be a real possibility in Mexico’s future as they join the growing list of Latin American countries who are taking cannabis off of their list of banned substances.