CBD legalization in Mexico may be causing more trouble

CBD in Mexico was recently legalized. CBD imported into Mexico has been in the spotlight this past year, following Mexico’s senate approval of a bill for medical marijuana use by any patient who receives doctor’s approval and completes the government’s application process.

The measure, voted on in December 2016, must still be passed by Mexico’s lower Chamber of Deputies before it becomes law. While medicinal Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been in limited use by Mexican patients since February 2016, this new bill includes legislation that would also permit the importation and exportation of medical cannabis-based products containing 1 percent or less of the ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

In the past half-decade, Latin America has been a leader in its strides to legalize marijuana. These efforts lend to a more global understanding of the cannabis plant as a life-altering medicine for many debilitating conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

The Road to Legalizing CBD in Mexico

CBD is a non-psychoactive plant compound found in marijuana, while THC is the notorious psychoactive component that causes a temporary high. The distinction is an important one today in discussions about legalization of CBD in Mexico; while hemp-based CBD therapeutic oils are legal for approved patients, any cannabis products containing any amount of THC still remain illegal.

While a ruling by the Mexican Supreme Court in 2015 declared individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for personal use, it did not eradicate the country’s strict drug laws. The ruling did however open doors for discussions about the possible legalization of marijuana in both the medical and recreational spheres.

“A few years ago, there was not a discussion about Medical Marijuana (neither CBD or THC), not at all,” says HempMed Mexico’s Representative and Founder of the Por Grace Foundation, Raul Elizalde. But the use of CBD as a medicine has made unprecedented progress in the last few years.

“In Mexico, there’s more buy-in to the holistic and botanical markets; it’s easy for the Mexican people to understand the benefits of marijuana as a medicine,” says Elizalde.

The move to legalize marijuana on broader grounds was sparked in April 2016, when Mexican President Pena Nieto proposed making recreational marijuana legal with up to 28 grams for personal use. But senators in his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) made no moves to legalize marijuana for recreational use, claiming that the idea needed further analysis. They did unite in support of medical marijuana, which resulted in the Mexican senate bill that gained 98-7 senate approval this past December.

There’s a significant difference in opinion among the Mexican populace on the acceptance of marijuana as medicine versus a recreational drug or one used for fun. According to Elizalde, medicinal use of marijuana has an average public approval rating of about 85 percent, while only about 35 percent of the populace approves of it for recreational use.

In Mexico, there is a strong negative stigma associated with smoking marijuana. This is in stark contrast to much of the U.S., where more than 20 percent of American adults now have access to marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, regardless of DEA’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Still, Mexico’s recent push for legislation lessens the gap between its laws and those in the U.S., where 28 states now have medical marijuana laws in place, and hints at an even grander scope — moving in the direction of legalizing all parts of the marijuana plant for medicinal use.

That being said, state governments that have legalized marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational purposes are watching closely to see what actions the Trump administration will take on a federal level in the coming months.

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that federal enforcement of marijuana laws would not be a priority in legalization states, he and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer have also made comments that hint at stronger enforcement of federal drug laws.

Michael E. Cindrich is a San Diego-based attorney who practices in the area of medical marijuana and has broad knowledge of both medical marijuana and CBD-specific products. Cindrich sees Mexico’s decision to legalize CBD in Mexico this way: “Any CBD legalization … is a first step toward acceptance of the plant as a legitimate source of medicine; more and more countries around the world are realizing CBD can be used for a wide array of illnesses.”

A Growing Industry: Latin America Breaking Down Boundaries

As a geographic region, Latin America seems to have set an unmatched precedent for the gradual acceptance and use of marijuana as a holistic alternative to other medicines.

In August 2013, Uruguay was the first revolutionary country to put forth legislation legalizing both the consumption and cultivation of marijuana, a move its government made based on considerations of domestic security. The process of legalization hasn’t been an altogether smooth one as reported by the Los Angeles Times, and initiatives are still being rolled out to make marijuana more widely accessible for both medicinal and recreational use.

Meanwhile, Chile’s President signed legislation in December 2015, allowing almost 4,000 patients to use medical marijuana, and the country has been cultivating Latin America’s largest medical marijuana farm since 2014. While the production of cannabis for personal use is still illegal, cultivating and using hemp for both industrial and medicinal purposes isn’t.

In 2014, Brazil’s National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (ANVISA ) legalized the import of hemp-based CBD oil for a number of therapeutic uses, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and most recently CBD for an Alzheimer’s patient.

Colombia, a country historically ravaged by drug violence and a brutal black market, also legalized marijuana in 2015, making it not only legal for domestic use but also allowing for the production and export of CBD-based products. Other countries such as Costa Rica are on the verge of passing legislation to approve medical marijuana as pressure mounts from patients demanding it.

At present, Elizalde notes that Mexico’s regulatory authority, Cofepris, has only approved the legal import of Real Scientific Hemp Oil-X (RHSO-X), a therapeutic oil extracted from non-GMO hemp plants. RHSO-X is manufactured by California-based Medical Marijuana, Inc. and distributed through its HempMeds subsidiaries, which includes HempMeds Mexico. Elizalde’s daughter, Grace, was one of the first patients in Mexico to receive permission for CBD in Mexico as treatment for her severe epilepsy.

Individual states in Mexico have their own decentralized health organizations that collect and forward applications for CBD hemp oil to Mexico City, a process that can be complex and lengthy. But HempMeds Mexico and the Por Grace Foundation are helping to facilitate this process by interacting with doctors and patients directly. Elizalde notes that about 230 patients are currently approved for RHSO-X, and that most don’t wait for more than three days.

“Por Grace has all the paperwork, and with a doctor’s prescription we can help fill it out quickly,” he says.

Potential Issues with CBD In Mexico Crossing Borders

In 2015 and 2016, HempMeds Mexico made strides in expanding RHSO-X into other Latin American markets, including Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina. The company, as described by Elizalde, serves as an important bridge between Medical Marijuana, Inc. and the Latin American Market. The Mexican market for CBD oils alone is predicted to reach $10 to $12 billion annually in the next few years.

The legalization of CBD in Mexico in December overlapped with the passage of California’s Proposition 64, a state statute that legalizes recreational marijuana use for California adults aged 21 years or older, in November 2016. The widening availability of marijuana across the U.S. border and the need by many patients to access more parts of the plant for effective treatment, begs the question of whether Mexico will have reason to accelerate the current bill in congress, and eventually address the production of hemp and marijuana in Mexico.

This is an issue that is of primary concern for medical marijuana advocates in Mexico, including Elizalde, who hopes that congress will work to continue to move forward this legislation over the next year. His fear is that politicians will be distracted by the recent election of President Trump and the obstacles of dealing with other controversial initiatives, and will either table or significantly delay a vote on the bill.

“The problems are with the politicians, not with the doctors,” says Elizalde, in response to whether any government-supported studies are taking place in Mexico. He notes that there are several doctors performing their own independent studies of the effects of CBD on patients, primarily children with epilepsy, but that research is still largely independent and leaves out studies of drugs that include other cannabinoids like THC. “How can we present hard evidence (for the effectiveness of THC) if it’s illegal?”

A more global level debate may be on the horizon in the rescheduling of marijuana, which is currently labeled as a Schedule I/IV drug, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a substance that has high risk of abuse, produces negative side effects, and has no potential therapeutic benefits.

The WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recently requested pre-reviews for cannabis, which it will review over the next 18 months to assess any legitimate grounds for its use as a therapeutic substance. If the U.N. were to approve a move to vote on rescheduling marijuana, the impact could be a major catalyst for wider acceptance of marijuana at an international level, since politicians often cite the UN Single Convention Treaty on Narcotics as the reason Congress cannot move toward rescheduling cannabis.

Legalization Plus Education Equals More Benefits, Less Abuse?

Increasing legalization of marijuana in the U.S. and Mexico also triggers another ongoing point of debate: does it hurt or help both countries’ fight against drug cartel activity? In an investigative piece by KPBS Radio News, some experts argue that further legalization in the U.S. will prompt more southbound smuggling of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use in Mexico.

On the other side of the CBD in Mexico argument, while seizures of marijuana at the Mexican border have decreased since 2011, numbers for intercepting other drugs like heroin and methamphetamines have increased at US borders. Does legalization of marijuana actually encourage drug cartels to produce more of other types of illegal drugs and further deter government’s efforts to diminish drug smuggling?

Not if you consider the long-term picture and think about the deeper underlying causes of drug abuse and smuggling, suggests Cindrich.

I don’t think the potential for cartels to produce more of other kinds of drugs should deter us from something that’s working; if anything, this should cause us to re-evaluate our policies on other drugs as well … whether we want to continue to criminalize drug issues or start to apply some different approaches.

This was the thinking that Uruguay’s government invoked with its move toward legalization of marijuana, and Cindrich cited Portugal as a unique example of a country that has decriminalized all drugs, with 2015 numbers from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction showing the second-to-lowest overdose rate in the European Union as reported by The Washington Post.

The shift in thinking comes in treating drug abuse as a public health issue rather than as a criminal issue, says Cindrich. “If your goal is also to ultimately protect citizens … legalizing drugs will serve that function as well through (1) education and (2) in places where people can obtain legal hard drugs — they’re monitored by public health agencies,” he said.

CBD In Mexico Going Forward

As countries like Mexico and the U.S. move toward a broader acceptance of marijuana and CBD oil as holistic alternatives to pharmaceuticals, perhaps further acceptance of alternative therapies for many ailments could be on the horizon.

Lauren Faggella is a freelance writer and burgeoning multimedia storyteller, specializing in education, the intersection of culture and social activism, and technology. She is big on integrating awareness and balance into her daily grind, and is an advocate for sustainable energy and local agriculture. Fiction writing and photography are her two (other) loves.


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