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Mexico’s March Toward Legalization is Thanks in Part to its Northern Neighbors

Bearing witness to marijuana’s medicinal and economic value is helping to change cultural taboos.

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Mexico is a place where you can find anything. It may take some hunting, but eventually you’ll find it. Such is the case with good weed and quality hemp products, a large portion of which are imported, both legally and illegally from the United States and Canada.

Soon, the country may be given the go ahead to produce its own legal marijuana for personal use. Scientists are now on the side of medicinal marijuana. And earlier this year, Mexican Secretary of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid suggested that legalizing pot would help reduce crime in a country battling its worst homicide rates in years.

Mexico’s stance on medical marijuana has been murky for at least a decade, when the government decriminalized “small amounts” of the substance for personal use in 2009. In 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that it was legal to grow “mota” for personal use, though the ruling only pertained to four plaintiffs in a case regarding its medicinal use for children suffering from epilepsy, and Mexican citizens as a whole have not yet been given the green light to grow.

In 2016, it was ruled legal to import CBD oil to Mexico. The majority of it comes from the US.

An Essential Activist

Megan Frye

Julio Zenil, editorial board member for Cáñamo (cannabis) Magazine, organizer for Mexico’s annual Million Marijuana March and producer of ExpoWeed, has been on the forefront of marijuana activism for years.

“It’s not just about stoners wanting to get high,” Zenil said. “It’s about compassion and realizing that cannabis can change people’s lives.”

Zenil traveled to Europe in 2000 where he made a documentary film on marijuana regulations in the region, in hopes of educating the Mexican public and helping to disassociate a cultural perception of marijuana users as drug addicts or, in general, “bad hombres.”

The activism helped in terms of education. When Mexico City’s annual Million Marijuana March began in 2000, it attracted a few people. But it’s since gained thousands.

But the major turning point in how marijuana was viewed in Mexico came about with the case of a young Mexican girl named Grace who suffered from hundreds of epileptic seizures daily. CBD oil not only reduced the occurrences, but eliminated them all together.

Last year, the COFEPRIS, essentially Mexico’s FDA, gave some permissions to allow medications such as CBD oil to be imported by certain companies, for use by private citizens. According to Zenil, though, the plant is still “taboo”.

In June 2017, COFEPRIS decided on new rules that will soon be enacted, including laws that allow medical research and use of marijuana.

The announcement of the new laws was supposed to take place in the first three months of 2018, but has been a bit stalled. COFEMER, a Mexican agency responsible for promoting regulatory reform policy, is now keeping an eye on the COFEPRIS timeline, making sure the process advances.

Tricky Timing

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The situation is a bit sensitive as Mexico will elect a new president on July 1.

“No candidate wants to take a position on this issue because it has some cost, even if they will allow it or not when they are in charge, they are trying to avoid the issue,” Zenil said, adding that he was informed by COFEPRIS that the new marijuana regulations will be published by November, when the new president takes office.

Colombia is an example of a country with a traumatic past related to drugs, that has now started to take advantage of its growing conditions. Mexico should be no different, Zenil said.

“Maybe there are some groups that don’t let us take advantage of our conditions,” he said. “Even though the quality and availability of marijuana in the US has improved, there is still some high quality marijuana being sold to the states illegally. Why should we be fighting and killing each other in Mexico if you can buy it legally in San Diego? Plus there are a lot of gringos in Mexico who have brought their culture with them, and they don’t like to smoke cheap weed.”

According to the new laws, it will be possible to cultivate medical marijuana in legal cannabis fields, Zenil said. “There will be protocols to be fulfilled whether you’re applying for permits as an individual or a company, with favor given to big companies and pharmaceutical companies.”

In the meantime, CBD oil from the US and Canada is being imported legally in many instances, and sold at high prices. Though there are plenty of Mexican-made CBD products and high quality herb on the market, and there are groups who are teaching people about extraction methods in order to make homemade oils for personal use. Zenil has a theory that some CBD oils sold in the US as “American made” are actually produced in Mexico, taking advantage of the lower labor cost.

Things are Changing

Megan Frye

Leopoldo Rivera, editor in chief of Cáñamo – which originated in Spain and is now co-produced with Colombia, Mexico, Spain and soon-to-join Uruguay, says he’s seen Mexico’s view toward medicinal marijuana change a lot even in the past four years.

Securing a license to publish a magazine based on the use of cannabis was difficult in Mexico, due to the fact that the printed product is subject to review by a government censorship board known as the Comisión Calificadora de Publicaciones y Revistas Ilustradas (The Qualifying Commission of Illustrated Publications and Magazines).

“The Commission determined that the magazine was not legal because it was against the morals and customs of decent Mexican standards,” Rivera said. “Marijuana has always been seen in a negative way by the Mexican media, however everybody has a pothead in the family and knows they’re a normal person.”

The Cáñamo team took the issue to court and eventually earned approval to print, but Rivera sees the future of Cáñamo advancing in the digital world – at least in Mexico – in part to reduce its carbon footprint.

And as for the ganja? It’s expected that medicinal marijuana will be available in pharmacies, holistic health stores and by individual vendors, without need for a prescription.

“When it comes to medicine in Mexico, there are about 11 categories, going from controlled medication that requires a prescription, all the way to herbal supplements and vitamins that can be purchased by anyone,” Rivera said, adding that COFEPRIS will review stores that sell marijuana products, and those stores will have to apply for permits.

The law says that people will be able to produce marijuana for scientific and medicinal purposes, Rivera said. “We have no reason to import something that we can produce here. We have the land, the people, the climate. We have everything to do it ourselves.”

A Grower’s Market

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Currently, imported and nationally produced CBD products and quality Mexican marijuana cost about what they would cost in the United States. But Rivera imagines that with time, the prices will reduce once products are created in Mexico and the the regulations are relaxed, adding that “people want to do this legally.”

“We as a movement will always seek that all citizens have the right to grow,” Rivera said, adding that they believe education is key to Mexico’s new relationship with marijuana, as it is with alcohol. “The long-term objective is free, universal and responsible access to marijuana. That you can grow it, or you can buy it. We refrain from using the term ‘recreational’ because that does not reflect all of the uses. For as many people as exist in this country, there are uses for marijuana.”

Rivera adds that violence is a byproduct of marijuana’s clandestine nature on both sides of the border.

“Everyday here in Mexico there are people who are profiled and searched for drugs, and sometimes they are detained for days. It’s a daily violence against individual rights. It’s violence against the patients that need marijuana as their treatment. Then there’s the question of mafias. Marijuana is not their principal market anymore. I look at the legalization of marijuana like I look at condoms: they don’t stop AIDS from existing or cure it, but they can stop it from spreading. At least, this money wouldn’t end up in the hands of organized crime.

“For every person who is able to grow their own marijuana, that contributes to reconstructing our social fabric.”

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