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An 8-Year-Old Girl Just Became Mexico’s First Medical Marijuana Patient

Graciela Elizalde suffers 400 seizures a day. An exemption to allow her family to import a cannabinoid for treatment is called an encouraging precedent by legalization activists in a country torn by ongoing drug-related violence.
Imagen por Daniel Becerril/Reuters

An eight-year-old girl nicknamed "Grace" is the first Mexican citizen allowed to use a cannabis-derived product for medical purposes, overcoming the country's generally stiff official view on drugs.

But Mexico's government appeared to scramble to emphasize that the Tuesday decision to permit a cannabinoid to treat 8-year-old Graciela Elizalde did not mean that marijuana or marijuana products were legalized.


Yet the move appeared to set a significant precedent that could alter drug policy in the country, legalization activists said.

Mexico has experienced waves of drug-war violence since the government in 2006 sent the military to the streets to combat drug cartels. Consumption of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in Mexico in 2009.

Elizalde suffers from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which causes up to 400 epileptic seizures a day, preventing her from walking, speaking, or attending school. The girl's parents, Raul Elizalde and Mayela Benavides, tried every legally available treatment to alleviate their daughter's symptoms, including brain surgery.

But nothing stopped the seizures, and Elizalde's parents decided to turn to a public social-media campaign to apply pressure so that Mexican authorities could approve a cannabinoid treatment for Grace. Elizalde's parents told reporters they became aware of an increasing number of Lennox-Gastaut cases being treated with CBD, a non psychoactive cannabidiol with medical properties that can help suppress seizure activity.

Related: New Uruguay President Postpones a Key Step in Jose Mujica's Marijuana Legalization Law

The use of a cannabis to treat illnesses is legal in some US states, some countries in Europe, and in Canada, but Mexican authorities have been reluctant to offer a blanket legalization of its use and importation, regardless of a patient's needs.


Elizalde's parents filed a petition for the government to make a special exemption to the law and allow the importation of a cannabidiol treatment for their daughter.

The response finally came on Tuesday, when Cofepris, the Mexican health agency that oversees medicine imports, agreed to permit the importation of Epidiolex, a drug made by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals, which is still in its development phases.

"We are happy," Raul Elizalde, the girl's father, told AFP. "It's our last hope."

The medicine could arrive to the country within the next week.

However, the Cofepris statement on the ruling pointed out that its decision will only be valid for Elizalde's case. "It must be noted that this ruling does not authorize the importation of marijuana in any of its forms," the agency's official statement read.

Yet Patricio Casso, a Cofepris advisor, later said that cannabinoids are not illegal in Mexico, while the cannabis plant is. He said the exemption for the Elizalde family relates to the fact that the Epidiolex drug has not been totally vetted and approved by the national health agency.

"Should there be someone in the same situation [as Graciela Elizalde], a special permit would not be needed anymore," Casso told El Universal TV.

Elizalde's case is certainly not the only one in the country. Marijuana legalization advocates are hoping that the eight-year-old girl's story will reach Mexico's Congress, and open the door for an eventual cannabis legalization.

"Authorities have realized that they have to move forward on the therapeutic use of cannabis, either the easy way or the hard way," Aram Barra, an activist who promotes the legalization of drugs, told El Pais. "And it seems like they are doing it the easy way."

Related: An Exclusive Look Inside Chile's First State-Approved Medical Marijuana Harvest

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