Mexico’s senate has approved the use of cannabis for medical purposes after voting overwhelmingly in favour of more relaxed drug laws.
Following a national drug policy debate, 98 senators voted to pass a new bill proposed by President Enrique Pena-Nieto to permit the use and production of marijuana for scientific and medicinal purposes.
Just seven senators voted against the measure, which President Pena-Nieto submitted earlier this year.
The bill, which represents a further step toward outright legalisation of cannabis in a country long wracked by warring drug cartels, must also be passed by Mexico’s lower house to become law.
The Senate said in a statement that the measure directs the Health Department to “design public policies to regulate the medicinal use of this plant and its derivatives”.
Since a court ruling last year, the government has allowed the importation on a case-by-case basis of medicine with cannabidiol (CBD), an active chemical ingredient of the drug.
The bill passed by the senate envisages permitting use of products containing the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
It establishes that industrial products with concentrations of one percent THC or less would be legal to buy, sell, import and export.
Lisa Sanchez, director of drug policy for Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia, a group working to curb crime, told Reuters she welcomed the decision but it was not the “end of the road”.
“It’s been years that we’ve been fighting for acknowledgment and approval and recognition of the medical and therapeutic uses of cannabis, and today we finally have something,” she said.
Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited in Mexico, but last year the Supreme Court granted four people the right to grow their own cannabis for personal consumption, opening the door to legalisation.
Some lawmakers argued that the bill does not go far enough because it does not cover individual cultivation of marijuana, other narcotics such as opium paste and poppies, or wider issues such as the war on drugs.
Senator Armando Rios Piter of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party voted no.
He acknowledged the legislation would benefit patients suffering from some chronic diseases, but called it a “very small” achievement that failed to address “the failure of the policy of combatting organized crime”.
“To celebrate that we are making a material change on marijuana would be fooling ourselves at this stage of the game,” Rios Piter was quoted as saying.
In the decade since then-President Felipe Calderon launched a militarised offensive against Mexico's drug cartels, more than 100,000 people have been killed and some 30,000 more are missing.
Additional reporting from agencies
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