Argentina gives green light to use of medicinal marijuana

Legal change guarantees certain patients access to cannabis oil, but homegrown pot still illegal

The Argentinean Senate has passed a bill making medicinal marijuana legal, in line with other Latin American countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile. A unanimous 58-0 vote guarantees patient access to cannabis oil and lifts the ban on importing the plant.

Argentinean senators raise their hands to approve the new law on the use of cannabis oil.
Argentinean senators raise their hands to approve the new law on the use of cannabis oil.Télam

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A group of mothers who spent the past year lobbying for change were in the Senate to applaud the result that gives their sick children, many with epilepsy, legitimate access to the drug.

The move comes after the country’s Congress approved the move in late 2016.

Cultivating marijuana remains a crime with offenders facing up to 15 years in jail

“We now have a legal framework for the research, treatment and the production of medicinal cannabis,” says Ana María García, president of Cannabis Medicinal Argentina (Cameda).

Benjamín, a two-and-a-half year old with West Syndrome, is among those who will benefit from the development. Diagnosed just months after birth, Benjamín has between 200 and 300 seizures a day but his body rejects conventional medicines.

“The oil means that Benja is free of the medications and seizures,” his mother, Yamila Casagrande, tells EL PAÍS. “Now he just takes a drop a day the size of a grain of rice. We are happy, but we’re also aware that the law is not perfect because we were fighting for the legalization of personal cultivation. Still, we have opened a door and it is great that the dire existing law has been modified.”

While the new ruling authorizes the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, cultivating it yourself remains a crime with offenders facing up to 15 years in jail.

“When it comes to growing your own, the law should be precise and not allow for vague and discretionary interpretations,” says lawyer Mariano Fusero, from the Association of Legal Debate.

Yamila Casagrande

According to Fusero, there is also a degree of confusion concerning the use of cannabis in research. “The law that dates back 50 years and the international instruments have always allowed the state and private organizations to carry out investigations on any illegal substance and guarantee its medical and scientific use,” he says.

In other words, nothing has changed in this respect while those providing the raw material are still in the same position. This was neatly illustrated by the arrest of the activist Brenda Chignoli whose home in the province of Córdoba was raided while this law was going through Congress. A grower and user of cannabis for medicinal purposes, Chignoli had her plants confiscated. She was then released in the small hours of the morning once the storm had blown over.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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