MEXICO CITY – Proper guidelines for the medical marijuana industry in Mexico will help end stigmas surrounding use of the cannabis plant to treat different illnesses, specialists told EFE on Thursday.
“It’s an important step because it’ll open the door to informing (the public), making the benefits visible and doing away with specialists’ fear of prescribing these products,” said Dr. Fernando Marquez, a surgeon who is a member of Cannapeutas, a Mexican association of physicians who investigate the health benefits of cannabis and are among the few experts who prescribe medication containing cannabinoids.
In mid-2017, Mexico’s legislature legalized cannabis for medical and scientific use.
But the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risk (Cofepris) still has not issued updated regulations governing the sale and importation of products derived from the cannabis plant.
Marquez said that delay has been partly due to misinformation and fear among health professionals, since those who have taken the step of studying cannabis and prescribing it to patients “are stigmatized by the medical community.”
He added that most of these medicines are not available for purchase at pharmacies and can only be acquired via Cofepris.
Last year, that commission published guidelines for the sanitary control of cannabis and its derivatives.
Those rules authorized the sale and export of some products with concentrations of THC (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) of 1 percent of less.
But after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in December, those guidelines were partially revoked.
Separately, Mexico’s legislature is debating whether to fully legalize the recreational use of cannabis, with several bills having been introduced by different lower-house lawmakers and senators.
Lopez Obrador has expressed support for that plan as part of an alternative approach to the country’s war on drug gangs, a struggle that is estimated to have left more than 250,000 dead and more than 40,000 missing over the past 12 years.
Jose Lugardo Espejel, director of Sativa Care, a medicinal cannabis clinic that is the first of its kind in Mexico City and which imports its products from the United States, said there has been a lack of political will in Mexico to legalize this industry.
Unlike tobacco and alcohol, “cannabis remains something that’s hidden,” he said, noting that this situation persists despite the plant’s health benefits.
Even so, the businessman said the industry in Mexico is ready to apply for licenses as soon as the use of cannabis is fully legalized.
If Mexico takes that step, it would become just the third country worldwide – after Canada and Uruguay – to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
There is uncertainty, however, about foreign companies that plan to swoop in to the Mexican cannabis market, he said.
“The current rules (from some of the legislative proposals) say that 80 percent of the business has to be domestic and 20 percent foreign, but we know there’s still corruption in the country and you have to pay attention to that,” the Sativa Care director said.
He added, however, that one thing in Mexico’s favor is that it is home to numerous experts and researchers with broad knowledge of the cannabis plant.
In that regard, the president of the Mexican Association of the Cannabis Regenerative Industry, Lorena Beltran, said the country needs to leverage its geographical and climatic conditions to maximize cannabis production.
Marquez, for his part, said one of the keys to ending the stigma of cannabis is to give greater visibility to patients who have benefited from marijuana-based treatments.
“We don’t value their stories. We need to show the cases of patients who’ve improved, and doctors need to stop being afraid to say they work with cannabis,” he said.
Marquez added that thus far it has been proven that the plant can be used as part of a treatment program for many different illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, cancer and diabetes.