MEXICO CITY — A senator from President Enrique Pena Nieto's governing party introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow patients easier access to cannabis-based medicines, a week after a ruling by Mexico's Supreme Court that cracked open a door to recreational marijuana use.
The measure does not propose wholesale legalization of medical marijuana but rather seeks to permit the importation of cannabis and derivatives for medicinal purposes. Domestic pot production would still be prohibited.
"This measure is responding to the urgent need to allow availability of medicines through importation," said Sen. Cristina Diaz Salazar, a member of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
Addressing about a dozen families of ill children during a news conference in the Senate building, Diaz Salazar said: "We know that this constitutes a hope for all of you to be able to mitigate the pain and suffering of your loved ones."
The bill would have to be approved by both houses of Mexico's congress, and the PRI and allied lawmakers control both chambers.
According to an outline provided by the senator's staff, the legislation would modify Mexico's health code to remove THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and synthetic cannabinoids from a list of schedule-1 controlled substances and reclassify them as schedule-3. It would also allow the importation of medicinal marijuana products and establish a 10 percent duty.
By doing so the bill would codify in law a recent court ruling that granted the parents of Graciela Elizalde, an 8-year-old Monterrey girl, permission to import THC oil to treat her severe epilepsy.
The Elizaldes were on hand for Tuesday's introduction of the bill as were other parents who hope its passage will give them the same right. Since Graciela began the marijuana extract treatments, her condition improved to the point where she began sleeping through the nights for the first time in months.
Among the parents at the news conference was Manuel Villanueva, who cradled his mostly motionless 11-year-old son, Leo, in his arms as he explained that the boy has a difficult-to-treat form of epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Leo suffers from severe mental retardation, spasms and muscular difficulties that hamper his ability to walk or even speak, and a recent operation did not bring relief, Villanueva said.
"We have tried all the anti-epileptics. ... Unfortunately the surgery didn't work," he said. "So through our friends and the Internet we found out about the (cannabis) oil, and now we intend to try it and see what results we get."
Salazar's bill is separate from last week's Supreme Court decision favoring the growing, possession and smoking of marijuana for recreational purposes under the right to personal freedom. That ruling covers just a single group of four people seeking to form a cannabis club and has not overturned laws banning recreational pot.
Salazar said her bill is just "a first step" and should not be linked to the debate over recreational use.
Pena Nieto said Monday that he opposes legalizing marijuana, but welcomed a dialogue on the issue and invited doctors, sociologists and other academics to take part.