Mexico medical marijuana bill should pass Congress by May -senator

MEXICO CITY, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A bill to allow medical marijuana should be approved by Mexico’s Congress by May, thanks to cross-party support and a series of public debates on cannabis that should win over lawmakers, the ruling party senator who proposed the measure said.

The bill, proposed by Institutional Revolutionary Party Senator Cristina Diaz, aims to change Mexican laws to allow the import of medical marijuana products to help the roughly 5,000 medical patients currently without access to such drugs.

Diaz proposed the measure just days after a November Supreme Court decision that opened the door for an eventual legalization of recreational marijuana in a country ravaged by drug violence.

Polls show a majority of Mexicans oppose outright legalization, as do Diaz and President Enrique Pena Nieto. Still, Pena Nieto has called for a national debate on the matter, which begins this month. Other lawmakers say there is broad support for new medical marijuana regulation.

Speaking with Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday, Diaz said the marijuana debates should help win over more conservative lawmakers and ensure the bill is passed by May.

“That’s what I expect,” Diaz said. “Once the debates begin, that will raise awareness.”

In calling for the marijuana forums, Pena Nieto said he wanted to crystallize the state’s formal position toward the drug before a United Nations policy meeting, UNGASS, in late April that could influence Mexican drug policy. Diaz said she expected her bill to have passed by then.

“This is a medical emergency,” she said, referring to the patients unable to import medicine they wanted. “Nonetheless, I’m not trying to end the Mexican state’s prohibition (of marijuana).”

As it stands, Diaz’ bill only allows for imported medical marijuana products. That has upset some, who argue that any new legislation should help drive a domestic industry.

Many top companies cashing in on legal cannabis are considering a bet on Mexico in the wake of the Supreme Court decision and the medical marijuana bill.

Pot private equity firm Privateer Holdings calculates a legal medical and recreational cannabis market in Mexico could be worth $1.7 billion a year. (Editing by Simon Gardner and Andrew Hay)