By Natan Ponieman and Javier Hasse
Latin America’s cannabis market is poised to become a central piece in the development of a legal global cannabis industry. With land and weather perfectly fit for cannabis cultivation, relatively low labor costs, and a strategic location for exports into North America, the region is on its way to becoming an important cannabis hub.
Some markets like Colombia are welcoming investments from some of the top cannabis companies like Canopy Growth CGC, Aurora Cannabis ACB, Cronos Group CRON and Aphria APHA. However, other countries in the region are far behind on cannabis policy. Aside from holding these nations back on the possible economic development associated with production, this reluctance to moving forward is having even stronger consequences on citizens who depend on the plant as basic medicine to lead a healthy life.
Peru: 'President Vizcarra, On Which Side Of History Do You Want To Be?'
Earlier this month, an open letter to Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra went viral. In her statement, author Francesca Brivio, a social communicator and mother of three from Lima, urged the President to move forward in the regulation of safe access to medicinal cannabis.
Brivio explained she suffers from a strange blood disease that has limited her life to extreme circumstances, causing over 60 different symptoms. She has been in a wheelchair, had her uterus removed, has suffered from constant nausea and multiple allergic reactions that almost cause her death due to respiratory tract problems.
After taking over 32 different medications a day without positive results, she found that cannabis could help her mitigate her symptoms and live a normal life. However, the state of Peru cannot guarantee her access to the medicine.
“Two years ago, on November 2017, law 30,681 passed, which regulates cannabis and its derivatives for medical use. This law is incomplete because it leaves out home-grower, allowing only for private labs to grow and sell. Yet, we don’t have a single cannabis product in pharmacies today,” says Brivio, blaming the lack of access on a lack of political will amongst relevant actors, who do not consider the plant to be medicine.
“Cannabis is not a panacea, but it’s a valuable healing tool and it must be considered,” the activist said, who urges her president to take action in the name of health.
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In conversation with Benzinga, she explained this is the second letter she’s sent president Vizcarra. “Two years after our cannabis law was passed, we still don’t have any legal cannabis in Perú: not in pharmacies, and not at home,” she said.
Brivio hopes to see a system that allows for both commercial products and home growing of cannabis in the near future.
Argentina: 'This Is An Emergency, Our Pain Doesn’t Wait'
Also recently, cannabis NGO Mamá Cultiva (Mom Grows) published its own open letter to Argentina’s president-elect Alberto Fernández and ex-president Cristina Kirchner, who will be taking office in December as Fernández’ vice president.
Similar to what was seen in Peru, activist groups from Argentina achieved the passage of a cannabis law in 2017. However, this law does not consider home-grown medicine either. Furthermore, the country has so far failed to establish an infrastructure for access to commercial medical cannabis.
“From [our organization] we work daily to fulfill a role that the state does not fulfill: take care, assist, council and accompany thousands of people that have found comfort in cannabis. A comfort that the health system has not been able to grant them,“ the letter says.
What Does The Law Actually Do?
Although law 27.350 grants safe access to medical cannabis, the changes in policy never took place, and those in need of medicine are stuck behind bureaucracy.
On a recent interview, president-elect Fernández came out in favor of the decriminalization of the plant. Nonetheless, he has already listed the urgent agenda for his first months in charge, where he excluded the issue of cannabis reform.
“When priorities are set, those who enter office must know that there’s a health emergency that no one is seeing,” said Valeria Salech, president of the NGO. "This is an emergency, these people cannot wait. They’re living poorly and need a real answer from the state."
Chatting with Benzinga, Salech explained Mamá Cultiva Argentina thinks this is “the moment to bring attention to the issue of home grown cannabis for health.” She sees the change in leadership in the country as an opportunity to end the cycle of criminalization of home growers and to re-think a legal system that ultimately benefited foreign corporations rather than patients.
“We want this new era to include us and echo our voices,” she told Benzinga. “We want public policies that take us into account, public policies that allow us to participate, public policies that reflect the potential derived from our human resources, the riches of our soil, the sanitary tradition of Dr. Ramón Carrillo, and the existing capacity of our government owned labs and research organizations.”
Why Open Letters: ‘While They Continue To Sow Fear, We Sow Hope’
Finally, we asked why these mothers believe open letters are an effective way to exert change.
For Salech, Argentina offers a long tradition of speaking to politicians and the population through open letters. This, she adds, is amplified by social media nowadays. “We feel this is the quickest and most efficacious way to make this problem known and have it included in the political agenda,” she said.
Brivio’s position is similar: "Open letters are very efficacious when it comes to informing society about what’s really happening. Social media can be a very useful tool to make some of these issues known and rally people un support, consolidating the cause… Enough exposure will always get an open letter to the person it’s intended for.
“While they continue to sow fear, we sow hope.”
To join (or learn more about) the fight of Mamá Cultiva, go to http://www.mamacultivaargentina.org/
Note: all of the quotes have been translated from Spanish by the authors of the article.
Photo by Javier Hasse.
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