Head of HempMeds® Mexico and vocal advocate for medical cannabis spearheaded cannabis reform in Mexico.
A father’s love for his daughter will drive him to impossible heights. But watching her experience a seizure can make a father feel helpless as he stands by watching the stiffening and jerking of her tiny arms. It was a feeling Raul Elizalde felt constantly, watching his daughter have hundreds of seizures a day.
In his desperate search for a way to reduce her suffering, Raul challenged the Mexican government and forever changed the way the country looks at medical cannabis.
A Heartbreaking Diagnosis
Raul Elizalde and his wife Mayela Benavides were overjoyed when they welcomed their first child, Graciela, to their family. She was their perfect baby girl. Their Grace.
However, after just the few months of life, Grace’s doctors noticed psychomotor retardation and other signs that meant something was wrong. Grace’s parents felt it too.
After an endless battery of tests, visits with specialists, and ineffective therapies, Grace’s doctors arrived at the diagnosis of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.
Along with cognitive and developmental impairment, patients with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome suffer from hundreds of seizures a day. Grace visited many doctors and tried numerous drugs to control her epileptic seizures, but none managed to reduce their seizures.
Desperate for a solution, doctors of the Infantile Hospital of Mexico performed a callosotomy, a surgery that cuts three quarters of the corpus callosum of the brain in order to control seizures. The family did not receive the results they expected. Grace did not improve; there was even an increase in the intensity of her seizures. Hoping for nothing more than to improve their daughter’s quality of life, the couple began looking for alternatives.
They found that in the United States, Canada, Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil, many were adding a daily CBD product to their systems. Unfortunately, this path was cut off to them due to the laws in Mexico. In October of 2015, the family sued the Mexican government for the right to import the product for Grace, who was seven years old at the time.
Founding Por Grace
During their experience with Grace, her Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome diagnosis, and their fight against their national government, the family began the Por Grace organization as a Facebook page to document their daughter’s life, share information with families in similar situations, and provide hope to those suffering as they have.
It wasn’t long before parents across Mexico and the world began contacting them in despair, and a network of families was created to “exchange experiences, information about therapies, donation of medicines, wheelchairs, and everything related to disability.”
Eventually, Raul and Mayela formalized their work, creating the Por Grace Foundation. The foundation works to raise awareness for conditions like Grace’s, link patients with doctors, organize educational events, and even help to direct fundraising to where donations are needed most. So far, Por Grace has helped more than 300 families in Mexico and continues to expand its efforts to reach patients in Mexico and across Latin America.
Legalization in Mexico and Speaking Before the President
Por Grace and families like Raul and Mayela’s started a grassroots movement in Mexico that would eventually lead to the legalization of medical cannabis is the country.
Town Hall meetings in 2015 and awareness events hosted by Por Grace in 2016 caused a shift in public opinion and a wave of support from government and religious leaders, including Mexico City mayor Miguel Angel Mancera and Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the archbishop of Mexico City.
This movement led to the first patients in Mexico being given special authorization to import medical cannabis products and set the stage for more dramatic medical cannabis reform.
In the spring of 2016, California and Mexico held a cross-border forum to promote medical cannabis. Former California Assembly member Lori Saldaña and San Diego council member David Álvarez joined Tijuana government officials for the educational forum. Por Grace was present at the event, and Mayela spoke on her family’s experience.
Similar events were held across Mexico in 2016, building up to President Peña Nieto announcing in a speech that his administration would be exploring a new policy on medical cannabis. Raul was invited to speak before the President to share his story. You can view his speech HERE.
The nation’s government then got to work crafting its new position on medical cannabis. First Mexico’s Senate voted to approve the new law. Then the bill went to the Chamber of Deputies, where it passed by an overwhelming 374-7 vote. Finally, the new policy was signed into law by President Peña Nieto on June 19, 2017.
Taking the Reigns of HempMeds® Mexico
Just days after Mexico enacted its new medical cannabis policy, Raul joined HempMeds® Mexico as the company’s General Manager. Raul brings his personal experience with his family, his fight against the government, and his profile as a figurehead in the push for medical cannabis to his role as head of HempMeds® Mexico.
Raul’s addition to the company’s team was punctuated by the ribbon cutting of HempMeds® Mexico’s new office in Monterrey. From these new offices, Raul leads the company’s expansion efforts in Mexico, taking advantage of the country’s new medical cannabis law.
Speaking at the World Health Organization
Raul’s efforts on behalf of medical cannabis reform in Mexico has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to invite him to speak before the Thirty-Ninth meeting of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.
At this committee meeting, the WHO will be exploring changes to the Single Convention on International Drug Scheduling, Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, focusing on Ocfentanil, Carfentanil, Pregabalin, Tramadol, Cannabidiol, Ketamine, and eleven other substances.
Raul will speak to the committee on cannabidiol’s lack of psychoactivity as a major advantage to its use. Any recommendations the committee makes to cannabidiol’s international drug scheduling will have ripple effects to its legality around the world.
You can read more about Raul and his invitation to speak at the World Health Organization HERE.