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Mexico senate votes to legalize medicinal cannabis

December 14, 2016

Mexico's senate has voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. The bill falls short of demands among some critics who argue that wider legalization can help the country reduce drug-related violence.

Cannabis at a pharmacy in Holland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/E. Oudenaarden

Following a national debate on narcotics policy, the Mexican senate passed a bill on Tuesday approving the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Senators voted 98-7 for the legislation, moving Mexico closer to joining several US states and other nations in Latin America in allowing cannabis for medical uses.

In a major policy shift, President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed legalizing medical marijuana in April after his government organized forums to discuss changes to the laws.

Below expectations of society

The bill fails to meet demands from lawmakers and civil groups, however,  who argue that wider legalization can help the country which is mired in brutal drug violence. Nieto opposes a broader legalization of marijuana but has previously proposed increasing the amount of the drug that can legally be possessed for personal consumption from 28 grams (one ounce) from five grams.

Senator Miguel Barbosa, of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), lamented on Tuesday that the legislation was "well below the expectations of society" regarding reforms of marijuana laws.

In the decade since then-President Felipe Calderon launched a militarized offensive against Mexico's drug cartels, more than 100,000 people have been killed and some 30,000 more are missing.

Advocates of the bill, however, said Tuesday's vote was a major step that will address Mexicans' need of an alternative medical treatment.

Interview: Cannabis as a medication

The historic move will "lay the foundation to establish in our country an industry for the national production of medicine with cannabis," Senator Cristina Diaz, of Pena Nieto's centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said.

Senator Angelica de la Pena Gomez, of the PRD, said there was consensus to "do something different in drug policy" because prohibition "has generated high levels of violence, more than 100,000 deaths and the systematic violation of human rights."

Medical and scientific cultivation not punishable

In a statement summarizing the debate, the Senate said the measure directs the Health Department to "design public policies to regulate the medicinal use of this plant and its derivatives" - including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant's main psychoactive ingredient.

It also would establish that industrial products with concentrations of 1 percent THC or less would be legal to buy, sell, import and export. The cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes will not be punishable.

A family in northern Mexico became a symbol of the push to legalize medical marijuana last year when the parents of a young epileptic girl won a court battle to import a cannabis-based treatment to stop her daily seizures.

In a separate major case in November 2015, the Supreme Court authorized four individuals to grow and smoke marijuana for recreational purposes.

The bill, passed on Tuesday, will now move to the lower Chamber of Deputies for consideration.

ksb/kl (AFP, AP)