When talking about cannabis legalization, countries like Canada, the US, and Spain are thought to be the most progressive. However, many of the firsts of marijuana legalization happened not in these places, but in South America. One of the interesting stories out of this region, is Argentina.
Cannabis is not legal recreationally in Argentina, but as of 2009 a supreme court ruling decriminalized personal use of small amounts, though no specific amount was set in the ruling. Called the Arriola decision (based on a case involving the arrest of five individuals for possessing small amounts of cannabis), the court determined that so long as it is meant for personal use only, cannot affect or hurt anyone else, and does not pose any harm or danger, that drugs in small quantities are decriminalized.
According to the court “Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state.” The idea was to use time and resources to go after bigger cases, while letting small-time users complete programs, or get treatment of some kind. There is gray area left in not setting an amount for personal use – making it up to police officers or judges to use their discretion.
Trafficking of cannabis is illegal in Argentina and can incur prison sentences of 4-15 years. Commercial growing is illegal as well for residents.
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What about medical?
When it comes to medical cannabis, it gets a bit more interesting. On March 29th, 2017, the Argentinian senate approved a bill to legalize medical cannabis. According to the bill, if patients want use of treatments with cannabis, they must register with the national program, administered by the Ministry of Health. The government went a step further even, and guaranteed free access to approved patients, including children.
This new law still restricts personal cultivation, even for medical use. The following government agencies are responsible for giving authorizations to companies for cultivation, handling, distribution, and importing: The National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, and the National Institute of Agricultural Technology. As of the passing of the law, cultivation for personal use still carries a sentence of up to two years.
Mama Cultiva, and how they helped bring change
Change can often move slow, and sometimes a little push is required. This is where Mama Cultiva came in. Mama Cultiva is a grassroots organization of South American mothers, most of whom have extremely sick children – or at least, that’s how it started. The goal of the organization is for relaxing legal provisions for using cannabis as a medicine, both in the ability to take the medicine, as well as the ability to grow the plant.
The organization lobbies for change in medical cannabis and personal use laws, throughout Latin America, and their contributions can be seen in places like Argentina where their influence helped change the legislation to open up a medical program.
Mama Cultiva operates as a non-profit organization and helps people suffering from illnesses such as cancer, epilepsy, autism, etc, who have not benefitted from Western medicine, and are looking for an alternative in the form of cannabis treatment. Mama Cultiva also functions as an educational platform with classes, seminars and workshops offered by local chapters. Over time, Mama Cultiva has gained a wide following, and become an organization with a lot of pull. And one that keeps reminding of the goal when things are moving too slow.
In fact, when medical marijuana was legalized in Argentina, Mama Cultiva was angry that it didn’t include provisions for personal cultivation, something they’re working to change. “This law is the beginning…we achieved something important because we raised awareness and then implemented legislation for the benefit of everyone…however, it is clear that individual cultivation is very important, we need to keep working” said Mama Cultiva Argentina chapter president Valeria Salech.
Along with Mama Cultiva, a group of 136 families of sick children petitioned the government for use of cannabis to treat their children who were suffering from a range of disorders.
Where does the free part come in?
As part of the medical cannabis authorization, law 27,350 sets the creation of the National Program for the Study and Research of the Medicinal Use of the Cannabis Plant and its By-products and Non-conventional Treatments, which is a long way of calling it their medical ‘program’. One of the basic provisions of this program is to provide access to medicinal cannabis oils to those enrolled in the program (which is the only way to legally receive medical cannabis at this point).
The law states that those who require medicine from cannabis, can receive it free of charge. This might’ve been due to the lack of a structured, regulated system, but regardless of why, the program is set up to offer medical cannabis oil for free to patients who qualify. It’s also set up as a research initiative, with the free cannabis oil being given out as part of the research initiative.
As of the summer of 2018, there was still no actual program set up, but plans were being made for the first big medical cannabis cultivation to be done in Argentina (legally), taking place in the Northeastern municipality of Jujuy. The oils from this grow will go to hospitals for clinical trials throughout Argentina, and they will all be free of charge.
Along with the ‘program’, the new law also comes with the Cannabis Exceptional Access Regime which allows for products that contain cannabis by-products to be imported for medicinal treatments. This is for patients with epilepsy, or other medical conditions with scientific research backing a cannabis-related treatment. In these cases only a licensed physician with a neurology specialization can import it. It’s regulated under MoH Regulation No. 133.19. For these cases, I found no statement about whether these medications would also be free, and they could quite possibly come with a price tag.
When cannabis was decriminalized in Argentina in 2009, this included the cannabis cannabinoid CBD, or cannabidiol. CBD is not psychoactive, unlike its more well-known counterpart THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. Even so, as a part of the cannabis plant, it is often regulated with the rest of the plant, despite its huge array of possible medical benefits, and its lack of being a psychoactive agent. In 2009 it became decriminalized for personal use, and in 2017, when medical marijuana was legalized, CBD was legalized in that capacity as well. It is not legal for recreational use, and does require a prescription, or being a part of the ‘program’.
Promising free medicinal marijuana is quite a big move, although in Argentina, it is the most dire of health cases that qualify in the first place. Perhaps if the medical marijuana program expands to include more illnesses (and more patients), new structural laws will have to be made to govern a payment system if it cannot be guaranteed anymore by the government.
While I wonder if it would still be free if there had already been a legal and research framework to work with, (thereby bypassing the need for years of study and configuring structural outlines), there does seem to be a commitment to helping the people, and making sure that especially in the most extreme of cases, that people can get what they need regardless of whether they have money to pay or not.
In light of the many quick regulatory changes that have been made in the last few years in South America and Africa, many of which have been done in order to grow and sell cannabis commercially while maintaining it as an illegal drug (even for medical use!) within the countries of mention, it’s nice to see a program aimed at really doing good for citizens. It certainly says very good things for Argentina that they see the importance of getting people their medicine for free. Let’s hope it stays this way.
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