By Sharon Letts
“The Mexican government’s shift to tolerance, rather than persecution, for cannabis and other drugs has left the people of Mexico confused…”
“I think it’s about time Mexico legalizes, because many people need it… Education is necessary, as many people still do not know about all the good properties of this plant. Education needs to come first, then I believe it will be legalized here.”
– Ramon Fernandez of Mazatlan, Mexico
Sinaloa, Mexico is the home of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, known for its organized crime and drug running. Americans know of the state via reports of violence and mass murders, with “marijuana,” known on the street as “Mota,” prominent alongside stories of illegally smuggling heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine across the border into the U.S. Since Mexico decriminalized small amounts of all drugs for personal use in 2009, it was reported by CNN’s longtime drug war correspondent, Don Winslow, that both the Durango and Sinaloa Cartels stopped planting cannabis, and are now growing poppies – feeding North America’s opioid addiction.
“The New York Times” reported Mexico’s newfound tolerance, stating, “the maximum amount of marijuana considered to be for “personal use” under the new law is 5 grams — the equivalent of about four marijuana cigarettes. Other limits are half a gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams of LSD.” Per Winslow, the amount of cannabis exported from Mexico into the states has been cut in half since Colorado legalized it for recreation, with Mexican traffickers stating they can’t compete with the quality of weed in America. The Mexican government’s shift to tolerance, rather than persecution, for cannabis and other drugs has left the people of Mexico confused, especially its elders. Before America labeled cannabis an illicit drug, Mexico’s relationship with the plant was medicinally-based for centuries.
In April of this year, Mexico’s progressive President, Enrique Peña Nieto, signed a decree legalizing the use of cannabis as medicine. The bill also classifies the psychoactive compound of the plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as “therapeutic,” allowing whole plant extractions – something advocates for medicine insist is necessary for certain ailments. After much public debate, the measure was accepted by Mexico’s Senate with 98 in favor and just nine opposed. Its Lower House of Congress passed it with a 347-to-seven vote. The approved bill was then handed off to Mexico’s Ministry of Health (Cofepris), where its healing effects will be researched, then public policy drafted, regulating “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica, and American or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol,” as stated in the bill.
Many see this new legislation as the only way for cannabis to be accepted as something other than a cartel cash crop. A query recently done on the street in Mazatlan, a beachside tourist town in the state of Sinaloa, demonstrated a newfound understanding of cannabis as medicine, along with a hunger for education.
Yetzali Guadalupe Norman Gomez, Mother
Yetzali Guadalupe Norman Gomez is a young mother from Zacatecas, in the State of Nayarit, who now makes her home in Mazatlan. “I understand that many people smoke it and it feels good to them psychologically, but I don’t know anything about it as medicine,” she said. “If it can help people, that would be very good – that would be a benefit for them. I think there is a lack of information on medicine, but before everything else, health is first and foremost.”
Erick Alvarez is a café owner in Mazatlan. He has a better understanding of cannabis’s health benefits, stating, “It’s very important as medicine, for example, there are people with Parkinson’s disease that have been treated with cannabis – and it’s very good for them,” he said. “I think it’s very difficult to legalize, though, because of the drug trafficking – the Mexican Government is very corrupt in that respect, and it’s not easy for them to legalize.”
Santiago Lopez and Chris Van Vise are realtors in Mazatlan. Chris is a transplant from Canada, and understands cannabis as medicine, from his own experiences. “When I was still in Canada, I helped my dog with seizures using cannabis oil in capsules,” he shared. “When storms would come, that’s when she’d have the most seizures – within one hour of a storm, she’d get a seizure. After giving her the caps for about five-to-six years, one day a storm came and she never seized. It went away, 100 percent. I definitely think it should be legalized as medicine,” added Chris. “It comes down to the fact that it’s a plant. But here in Mexico, 70 percent of Mexicans still think that if you smoke a joint, you are a drug addict. They need education to understand.” Santiago is a native of Mexico, and he now lives and works in Mazatlan. He remembers his grandmother soaking cannabis in alcohol, then using it topically for the pain of arthritis. He feels legalizing cannabis for medicine is a good idea. “We need information on the subject, and for more people to start talking about it as medicine,” he said. “I think it’s good, but it’s going to be a process to help people understand what it really is. I think if people have more information about it many things could change.”
Dolores Sanchez has lived in Mazatlan all her life and has seen the violence and destruction caused by the cartels. While she is aware of medicinal cannabis, she still feels that recreational use leads to using harder drugs, like heroin. Her friend, who joined her in the park that day, agreed on both points. “I understand it as medicine because of the case of Gracela, a little girl allowed to use it here for epilepsy,” she said of 11-year-old Gracela Elizalde, of Monterrey – the only citizen allowed to use cannabis as medicine, so far. “It’s good for medicine as it really helped her. It also helps with the pain of arthritis.” After this writer informed her that it’s my only medicine, and I never wanted to do any other drug, she was then curious and agreed, “We need more information and education.” Only time will tell if the people of Mexico can fully accept cannabis as medicine. One thing is certain, its people are willing and open to learn.