All of South America is moving inexorably towards the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use
Medical marijuana advances in South America. In 2017, TV from Peru gave news that had hardly any impact on society. Lima police broke into a house located in the San Miguel neighborhood where they seized five kilos (11 pounds) of marijuana, lighting equipment for cultivation and fertilizers. The whole house was an indoor cannabis crop that is now dismantled. The policemen who intervened in the device posed proudly next to the plants torn from their pots.
In the end it was discovered that the cultivation of marijuana from the house of San Miguel was not a private business of traffickers. It was the work of a group of desperate families, especially mothers, who grow cannabis for seriously ill relatives. It is a treatment option that has many followers in Peru despite the fact that cannabis cultivation is strictly prohibited.
The families had joined together to form a non-profit association called “Searching for Hope,” Seeking Hope, focused on self-help but also towards promoting legal change. During the days after the police raid, the Peruvian media gave the association a very comprehensive and compassionate coverage, which has led to a radical change in public opinion and has facilitated the path for legal reform in Congress of the country, dominated by right-wing legislators.
The police intervention triggered a series of events whose peak moment has been the promulgation of what is possibly the most complete medical marijuana law in all of Latin America, in Peru. Until that time, Peru was the most conservative country in the entire Latin American continent in terms of drug policy.
The new law, passed in February, places Peru as the leader of an unstoppable tendency to legalize medical marijuana and even recreational marijuana, which extends from the south of the Rio Grande to Patagonia.
At the beginning of 2019, the Peruvian Congress passed Law 30681, which legalizes and regulates the cultivation, processing, importation, exportation and commercialization of registered medical marijuana products. In order to be part of the new industry, companies need to request licenses from the General Directorate of Medicines, Supplies and Drugs of Peru (DIGEMID).
Ana Álvarez, leader of Searching for Hope, the association that ran the indoor crop that the police seized, has a 19-year-old son who has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a serious form of epilepsy, says legalization brings so much hope as concerns.
Legalization is a great advance in the opinion of Álvarez. She had been prosecuted, along with a doctor who advised the association, until a comprehensive judge filed the case, which was a big stroke of luck.
Before she gave him drops of cannabis tincture, her son Anthony suffered up to 10 severe seizures a day, and often much damage was done. The boy broke his arm, several teeth, broke his forehead and suffered a cerebral hematoma. It is currently full of scars.
Since Anthony began to be medicated with therapeutic cannabis he has a maximum of two seizures a day, and some days he has none. And the seizures are much less strong. The mother says that therapeutic cannabis has changed her son’s life that can now lead a decent life.
Thanks to the cannabis tincture provided by Searching for Hope, Anthony has been able to study again after two years and regularly goes to a theater workshop to help him with his socialization. But Ana Álvarez is not completely happy with Law 30681 as it neither regulates nor allows cultivation by users or their families.
In principle, this law is designed to help these patients but it may not be so since the only way to access cannabis at affordable prices is through home cultivation. Can patients pay for cannabis medications with the new law? Alberto de Belaunde, the liberal congressman who, in close collaboration with Searching for Hope, defended the law, agrees with Alvarez.
Belaunde believes that it is not just a question of prices. Cannabis is a customizable medicine for THC and CBD, the two most important cannabinoids in medical marijuana products, whose levels can be customized according to the individual needs of patients. De Belaunde says he will work in the coming months to solve that legal loophole. The main problem is that the approval of this law had a lot of opposition in Congress. It was not an easy process. It was necessary to sacrifice the issue of home cultivation for the law to pass.
Belaunde believes that it is a great omission that he now wants to solve. He also believes that the recreational use of cannabis should also be decriminalized and regulated as any substance, such as alcohol. Unfortunately, if they had tried to include the recreational use of marijuana, this law would never have been passed.
Although legalization extends throughout the South American continent, Law 30681 places Peru at the forefront of medical marijuana in Latin America. The countries that have recently legalized the medicinal use of cannabis are Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, the latter also legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults. These new laws have attracted North American cannabis companies.
Chile legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized recreational marijuana in 2015. The law went into effect in 2017 and Chile is now determined to become a regional leader in marijuana research.
Colombia legalized medical marijuana in 2015 and is already being cultivated legally. Medical marijuana products are expected to be available in pharmacies in Colombia this year and some economic analysts estimate that Colombia will be able to access 20% of the global medical cannabis market, with a potential value of 40 billion dollars.
Marijuana has ceased to be a symbol of the dark past of violence and now cannabis is used to care for people.
Other countries are passing laws to allow the production, import and export of medical marijuana, but Colombia has an advantage because it did three years ago, says Rodrigo Arcila, president of the Colombian Association of the Cannabis Industry. Clay says that the 29 member companies of the group have invested more than 600 million dollars in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.
At least that is the commitment of an increasing number of entrepreneurs who are building large marijuana plantations and state-of-the-art pharmaceutical laboratories that produce everything from cannabis-based pain relievers for cancer patients to dog treats that act as calming agents.
Uruguay was the first country to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Some analysts believe that this country, with a population of only 3 million inhabitants, will be the first country to reach the amount of one billion dollars in legal cannabis exports.
The next objective would be the legalization of recreational marijuana. Other countries in the world, such as Jamaica and some in Western Europe, have been moving along this line. Nik Schwenker of Canopy Growth, the first publicly traded cannabis company in Canada, believes that Latin America has many advantages. Schwenker’s company is expanding rapidly in Latin America. They have bought land in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru, and already have capital for investment. Schwenker says the region has great potential both as a supplier of medical marijuana products and as a consumer. The climate is perfect for the cultivation of marijuana and wages are very competitive globally in the agricultural sector. These factors are a great help for South America to become a giant in the production and export of cannabis.
In addition, South America has a great tradition of plant-based medicine and many people have some history of medical use of marijuana in their families. In Latin America 600 million people live. In terms of population, Mexico is approximately four times larger than Canada. Recreational use will be the next major battle in the region, where such consumption remains illegal in several countries, including Peru.
Paraguay is probably the largest illegal cannabis producer in South America. The United Nations estimates that it produces 15% of the world’s illegal supply of cannabis. The fact that Peru, a country that is not usually at the forefront of social change, has taken such an important step in medical marijuana seems to be an indication that Latin America is prepared for cannabis, at least for therapeutic use.
There is no doubt that medical marijuana is advancing in South America.