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LATIN AMERICA

Mexican families in need seek ways to outwit medical marijuana laws

Parents of epileptic children are buying contraband cannabis syrup despite a legal ban

Judge issued exemption for couple in Monterrey while Senate debates legislative reform

Graciela Elizalde’s mother gives her daughter the medication.
Graciela Elizalde’s mother gives her daughter the medication.

The man answers the phone. It’s mid-afternoon. He says hello, introduces himself and says yes, he was expecting the call about the marijuana. He is in Chicago telling the story of his daughter, who lives in small town in Guerrero, Mexico. “My little darling suffers from epilepsy, seizures. It had been a while since she had one but when they come, they are pretty ugly. She ends up very tired. I’ve been living here for seven or eight years. I work as a welder. She’s about nine years old. One day my daughter’s mom saw Raúl [the father of another epileptic girl] on TV speaking about marijuana syrup. She taped it and sent me the video. I started to get information and in the end I got the syrup. It will get to Guerrero next week.”

The girl was seizing more than 400 times a day . Her father says her fits have subsided by 15 percent in barely a month

Mexico is paying close attention to marijuana right now. Two weeks ago, the Mexican Supreme Court allowed a group to harvest its own plants for recreational use. At the same time, the country watched as a judge issued a special permit to the Elizalde Benavides family in Monterrey to import cannabis syrup. Their eldest daughter, Graciela, suffers from Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome, an especially aggressive form of epilepsy. The girl was seizing more than 400 times a day when she began taking the medicine in October. Raúl, her father, says her fits have subsided by 15 percent in barely a month.

When he saw Raúl’s video, the man in Chicago, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid legal repercussions, wanted to get his hands on the syrup, but had no legal recourse: the permit given to the Elizalde family did not set a precedent for other families. It was an exemption from the ban on imported cannabis-based medications.

During a meeting of relatives of epileptic patients in Mexico City two weeks ago, Raúl pointed out the inconsistencies of the law. “Those of you who bring the syrup for your children without a permit could be charged with corrupting minors.” In the eyes of the law, parents who buy marijuana syrup for their kids are, in fact, narcotizing them.

“It’s very risky, I imagine,” the father from Guerrero said. “But I don’t have another solution to her disease. It’s the only way. You have to look out for your children. And, as far as I know, the syrup has no side effects. The people at the store where I bought it told me how much we have to give her. It depends on weight, age…”

The man bought a bottle of the same syrup that Graciela takes. He called a supplier in Colorado and ordered it. It cost him $250. He sent it to Guerrero through some acquaintances, he said.

His case is not unique. Last week, a couple from Mexico City said they’ve considered smuggling in the syrup. Their oldest daughter, who is two years old, has Ohtahara Syndrome, an equally aggressive type of epilepsy. They know the Senate is debating a measure to reform several laws that would effectively allow everyone to import the medicine, but they do not know how long it will take to be approved. Senator Cristina Díaz (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI) is sponsoring the bill, but her team says it will not pass until mid-February. Meanwhile, the sick and their families are getting desperate.

They grew so frustrated they ended up dealing with a guy who had cooked up a homemade marijuana syrup

The family from Mexico City, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has tried everything to prevent the seizures. The father says they grew so frustrated they ended up dealing with a guy who had cooked up a homemade marijuana syrup. “The thing is he hadn’t taken out the THC. So, it had CBD and THC... I tried it first to see how it was and I got high.”

Those acronyms are the names of two cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in the plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive element, while cannabidiol (CBD) alleviates epileptic symptoms. The syrup these parents want has practically no THC but it has high doses of CBD.

Meanwhile, at least one more family from Mexico City and two more in Monterrey have ordered the medication without a legal permit. They smuggle it into the country despite the risk, convinced that Graciela’s case validates their actions.

English version by Dyane Jean Francois.

A diluted reform

When Senator Cristina Díaz introduced the measure two weeks ago, she insisted that the most important thing was “to import the medications.” Her team and civic groups advocating for the change are optimistic: although it may take a little while, the law will pass. The first phase, reforming health, import and export laws, is easy. The second part, building the “legal framework” to allow marijuana production in Mexico for scientific use, will be complicated. “In the original text, production was just as important but PRI said if you allow production, even if it is for scientific use, you open the door to production for personal use,” said a source close to the senator.

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