Deputy Elsa Conde of the Social Democratic Alternative Party, or simply Alternativo, will introduce a bill to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in Mexico next week. A press conference to announce the move is set for Monday, and the bill should be filed Tuesday, a day before the Mexican congress goes on vacation.
The bill would make medical marijuana available for seriously ill patients. It proposes a system of licensed dispensaries to handle supply. The text of the bill was not available by Thursday afternoon.
"I will introduce the bill on Tuesday," said Deputy Conde, "If marijuana helps sick people, we should not punish them for using it," she said Thursday.
Alternativo is a small party with only four seats in the 500-member Chamber of Deputies, but bill supporters said the measure also has support from some members of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), at least one member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and may pick up some support from a key member of the conservative governing National Action Party (PAN). (The three big parties in Mexico are the PRD, the PAN, and the PRI.)
While the number of supporters from major parties is currently small, it is a prestigious group. The three PRD deputies who have signed on are all doctors, and the PAN member expressing support is the chair of the health committee in the Chamber of Deputies, where the bill will get its first hearing.
Deputy Conde has been working with a small group of activists, academics, lawyers, and celebrities known as Grupo Cáñamo (the Hemp Group). Last fall, Conde introduced a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession in Mexico. The final bill in Conde's and Grupo Cáñamo's tripartite marijuana offensive, one that would legalize hemp production, is in the works.
Grupo Cáñamo came together to push for legislative reforms, said Mexico City activist Ricardo Sala, whose own organization, Convivencia, has been a leading voice for a more rational approach to drugs. "Deputy Elsa wanted to present some marijuana legislation, and she said we needed to show broad support, so we organized the group to help push that effort" he said. The group hopes to expand and broaden its mandate, but right now is focusing on marijuana issues, he said.
While Conde's decrim bill has gone virtually nowhere in the congress, the medical marijuana bill should have better prospects, said Jorge Hernández Tinajero, a member of AMECA (the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies) and an advisor to Conde. "This measure is very attractive medically and scientifically," he said at a Grupo Cáñamo strategy session Thursday morning. "It will be easier to achieve than decriminalization."
Tinajero said he joined Grupo Cáñamo in a bid to move from street activism to the halls of power. "We do the global marijuana day marches," he noted, "but we have to do politics if we want to change the law."
For Dr. Humberto Brocca, a leading Mexico City drug treatment provider who specializes in acupuncture therapy and deals with the city's street youth population, making medical marijuana available to those who need it is paramount. "This is a human rights issue," he said at the Thursday meeting. "The right to health is fundamental."
There are challenges, said Brocca. "The government here is very moralistic, and what we need and want to do is move medical marijuana from the moral sphere to the scientific sphere. Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug with no medical use, and we need to open the scientific and political space to move it to Schedule II. What we need is to move beyond policy based on moralism to policy that is evidence-based."
"Cannabis users should not be persecuted, either for medical marijuana or personal use," said anthropologist Sandra Tovar, who is married to Brocca and has coauthored several books with him.
"I think this can pass," said Tinajero. "The PAN needs to have a human face, and taking a bold stance on a health issue may help them do it."
Whether or not the bill passes, consideration of it will advance the cause, said Brocca. "We need to make this a public discussion so we can educate not only the public, but also the medical community and the politicians. This effort can only help," he said.