Global Report on Medical Marijuana: Mexico, Bahamas, New Zealand, Israel

In Feature Stories, Global by Brett Wilkins

Legalization of medical marijuana is on the agenda of at least half a dozen nations on three continents. A conference of Caribbean nations debates the merits of allowing medical use of cannabis. A cancer-stricken South African lawmaker makes an emotional plea for legalization. Parents of Israeli children suffering from debilitating epileptic seizures win the right to medicate with cannabis. All this and more in the world of medical marijuana…

Left-wing senators have introduced legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Latin America’s second most populous nation. The Senate bill would establish a legal framework for medical marijuana production, transport and distribution.

Congressman Fernando Belaunzaran of the progressive Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) is promoting legalization as a means of combating cartel violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in a brutal and ongoing drug war.

“Seventy thousand dead, 26,000 disappeared and an incalculable number of internally displaced are more than sufficient reason to look for an alternative model,” asserted Belaunzaran.

On a recent visit to Mexico, Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama criticized recreational marijuana use but said that the plant has pharmaceutical advantages and endorsed medical use as the “only exception” to continued prohibition.

Citing recent developments in the United States, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell confirmed that the archipelago nation’s government would consider legalization of medical marijuana at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit held recently in March in Kingstown, St. Vincent and Grenadines.

Meanwhile, ST. VINCENT AND GRENADINES Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said he hoped that CARICOM leaders would take “more than baby steps” toward decriminalizing marijuana for medical purposes when the matter was debated at the summit beginning March 12. Gonsalves called medical marijuana “an idea the time of which has come.”

“I am not talking about legalizing marijuana,” said Gonsalves. “The discussion is about decriminalization in respect of medical marijuana, and very small quantities regarding use for social and religious purposes, but not to be made available for anyone under the age of 18.”
The Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force (CCMRT) said it had received government assurances that cannabis would be decriminalized by the end of the year in Jamaica, as the island nation forges ahead with plans to establish a medical marijuana industry.

Cancer-stricken Member of Parliament Mario Oriani-Ambrosini has introduced a bill that would make South Africa the first nation on the continent to legalize medical marijuana. In an emotional address to fellow lawmakers, Oriani-Ambrosini admitted to using cannabis to manage the chronic pain of his late-stage lung cancer and appealed to Parliament to help patients with terminal conditions such as his by approving his Medical Innovation Bill.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to preventing and reducing social, health and economic harms caused by drugs and alcohol in the South Pacific island nation, urged “compassion” for patients using medical marijuana until they are able to do so legally.

“We support the medical use of cannabis,” NZDF Executive Director Ross Bell said, adding that legalizing recreational marijuana use was quite another debate. The nation’s health ministry does not support medical cannabis use, although a NZ$1,200-a-month spray containing marijuana extract is available and used by four patients.
Philippine lawmaker Rodolfo Albano III introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the archipelago nation of 97 million residents. Albano cited Dr. Sanjay Gupta, an American doctor and journalist for CNN, who recently said that “for some patients, medical marijuana is the only thing that works.” While Filipino Health Secretary Enrique Ona recently said that his office is neither for nor against medical marijuana, several of the nation’s lawmakers, including the House minority bloc, have argued in favor of medicinal marijuana legalization.

“We are in agreement that marijuana for medicinal, strictly medicinal, purposes should be examined and legitimized. For recreational purposes, that’s an entirely different issue,” said House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora.

Children suffering from severe chronic epileptic seizures and who have not responded to pharmaceutical medications will now be eligible for medical marijuana, the Israeli Health Ministry recently announced. Parents of epileptic children had launched a campaign threatening to move to Colorado, where many medical marijuana “refugees” have flocked to receive treatment for their ailing children.

“My daughter has seven–eight seizures a day and the doctors have nothing to do,” pleaded one mother. “I’m not asking, I’m begging — give me the license to use medical cannabis. With this amount of seizures, what is the Health Ministry waiting for? … Why are they letting us suffer this way?”

The Health Ministry has also added fibromyalgia to the list of ailments legally treatable with medical marijuana. Other eligible illnesses include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome and chronic pain.

A group of researchers from the University of Alicante published a study in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Experimental Eye Research suggesting that cannabinoids could help slow vision loss caused by retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness. Using rats, the researchers were able to slow vision loss by administering synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Rats given daily doses of the drug showed significantly better vision than control rats, and the THC-treated rats also showed 40 percent more photoreceptors, critical in vision, than the control group.

“These data suggest that cannabinoids are potentially useful to delay retinal degeneration in retinitis pigmentosa,” wrote Dr. Nicolás Cuenca, the study’s lead author.