The tough reality for a family in Mexico is yet another example of why medical cannabis needs to be legal globally. Four out of five Americans agree that medical marijuana should be legal, yet in the majority of the country, and the rest of the world, sick adults and children are still being denied a medical option that could truly help them.
A recent Washington Post article profiles Raul and Mayela Elizalde and their quest to obtain medical cannabis for their 8-year-old daughter, Grace. Grace has been diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, an illness that causes her to suffer hundreds of flash tremors each day. Her parents have tried nearly everything to help Grace, even a risky brain surgery, but nothing has helped. The article describes their struggle:
Mayela had trained as an engineer and worked in economic development, but caring for Grace became her full-time job. In an Excel spreadsheet, she has documented the 19 anti-convulsive pills and powders Grace has taken in various combinations since August 2008. The side effects have often been distressing: Medicines have shrouded her peripheral vision, caused incessant drooling and made it difficult to chew. Her parents have visited more than a dozen neurologists, plus orthopedists and gastroenterologists, optometrists and geneticists. They experimented with homeopathic drops, acupuncture, herbal infusions.
Raul once drove three hours to the border town of Laredo, Tex., and spent $5,147.07 to fill a prescription for Cortrosyn, which Mayela injected in Grace’s buttocks at 6 a.m. for 40 days.
“It didn’t work,” she said.
There have been countless success stories of how CBD, the major non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can help children battling severe forms of epilepsy. With that knowledge, the Elizaldes have been doing everything thing they can to get CBD to Mexico for Grace to try. Soon, they could make history:
Earlier this month, though, a federal judge ruled that the Mexican government could not prevent Grace’s parents from importing cannabidiol (CBD) to treat her seizures. If the family can obtain the product, Grace could become the first person to legally use marijuana in Mexico.
In Mexico, like in parts of the US, the social stigma surrounding marijuana is so strongly ingrained, it’s very difficult to get people to understand any other truth. In the Washington Post article, this is evident through the words of a current Mexican lawmaker:
“It’s wrong to think that legalization would resolve the problems of drug trafficking and public security; rather, it would aggravate the problem of public health,” said Eduardo Santillan Perez, a Mexico City legislator from the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). “If you are poor, jobless, uneducated, without alternatives for your free time, marijuana risks pushing you into illicit activities.”
If you’ve heard my message as a cannabis activist yet, it shouldn’t surprise you that I fundamentally disagree with everything in that statement, but I want to focus on the implication of cannabis legalization being a public health concern.
Medical cannabis helps hundreds of thousands of people everyday and has never once killed someone. You cannot overdose on cannabis and so far studies have shown CBD to be “well tolerated and safe” even at high doses.
In reading what Grace’s parents have gone through with the legal treatments available – the risks, the adverse health effects and the costly, yet ineffective procedures – how is it that medical cannabis is still illegal? Why are people so comfortable with pharmaceutical drugs, but so uncomfortable with a plant that grows from the ground?
Prescription drug commercials are so prevalent they’re almost comical at this point. We all know the model. A sad person is quickly made happier by the drug their doctor gives them halfway through the ad, then as they walk peacefully throughout the end of the commercial, a voice-actor quickly reads some pretty disturbing side-effects, similar to the ones that Grace has experienced.
Personally, I scrutinize theses ads. “Might cause bleeding where?” – “Thoughts of suicide might occur…? Aren’t they selling this medication for depression?” – “In extreme cases, could cause sudden death?! How is this drug legal?!”
Aside from the clear benefits of trying an alternative safer than many pharmaceuticals, another reason legal cannabis is better for the “problem of public health” is because of the dangers the illegal drug market. Listen to the real cost of marijuana prohibition in Mexico:
The Elizaldes understand the concerns about drug violence. As they were raising Grace, their hometown of Monterrey became one of the country’s most crime-ridden cities, with the Zetas and Gulf cartels vying for dominance. The fathers of both Raul and his wife, Mayela Benavides, were kidnapped. Mayela was robbed on her way to pick up Grace from school. At one point, two men entered Raul’s hair-accessory store and informed him they were from “The Company,” which he knew to mean the Zetas. They charged him $150 a month, coming with their notebooks to collect, until he chose to close down.
“It was pure terror,” Raul said.
Mayela and her husband didn’t see themselves as activists promoting legalization. They just sought medicine for their daughter — and for other sick children.
People like the Elizaldes should not be forced into the political arena simply because they’d like to treat their sick loved-one. We’re making some huge strides of progress here in the US where 23 states have legalized medical cannabis, but we’re still so far from where we need to be. We need to share stories like the Elizalde’s, to highlight this need for continued change.
Fernando Belaunzarán, a Mexican lawmaker, has tried to legalize marijuana in the country. He’s also co-sponsored a bill for medicinal use, but both failed. He’s quoted in the article saying, “The war on drugs has generated such an avalanche of ideology that it’s difficult to break these prejudices.”
I completely agree with this. That’s why we need to keep speaking up. Hopefully, the more we spread the truth, the sooner little girls like Grace can have access to treatment that could help them toward more healthy, happy and normal lives.