MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — José Manuel García Vallejo started using cannabis five years ago to control his epilepsy. It was a relief from the conventional medicines he’d been taking since he was diagnosed with the condition at age 22.
“I was tired of the secondary effects. [The medicines] controlled it for a while, and then it’d become refractory again, so they’d stop working, and I’d have to change medicines and start all over again,” he says.
Now 37, he uses a cannabis oil concentrate with a high level of cannabidiol, or CBD, the primary non-psychoactive compound of cannabis. The primary psychoactive compound is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
García Vallejo gets the oil from friends who live in Colorado, United States, where some use of marijuana is legal under state law, with certain restrictions. It is, however, illegal to leave Colorado with a marijuana product, so he breaks the law to treat his condition.
“Since then, my quality of life has improved little by little,” he says. “My life gets better every day.”
García Vallejo has since helped start the collective Autocultivo Medicinal en México, which shares information online to help patients and their families grow cannabis in their homes, an illegal activity in Mexico.
Even for medicinal use, the production, trafficking, commercialization, use and prescription of cannabis are currently prohibited by Mexican law and punishable with jail time and financial fines. Penal sanctions are generally not applied for small amounts (up to 5 grams) of the plant carried for personal consumption.
In December, Mexico’s Senate approved a reform to the Ley General de Salud, the federal health law, and to the Código Penal Federal, federal criminal code, to allow the medicinal use of certain low-THC imported cannabis derivatives. Cultivation of cannabis for personal recreational use would still be illegal, but growing it for medicinal purposes, if done according to regulations, would not incur penal sanctions.
The initiative has yet to be considered by the Chamber of Deputies, the country’s lower house of Congress, which means it’s still possible to lobby lawmakers to legalize home growing, García Vallejo says.
In February 2016, Mexico City promulgated a new, local constitution, which permits the medical use of marijuana, but only within the bounds of federal law, effectively making this a symbolic gesture until the law changes.
But even if that doesn’t happen, García Vallejo says, people will continue to secretly grow the plant themselves.
“People are already doing what they want,” says García Vallejo. “The government is very myopic if it thinks people are heeding it now.”
Danielle Mackey, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.