Por Benito Díaz.
The struggle of a group of mothers has revived the debate on drug legalization in Peru. The mothers, organized in the association “Buscando Esperanza” (“Searching for Hope”), have brought about institutional measures in favour of medical cannabis. The association is formed by mothers of children ailed with chronic neurological illnesses and aims for regulation of marijuana with medical purposes as well as promoting homegrowing.
Mothers of chronically ill children unblock government legalization measures in Peru
Last February 8th’s early hours will be hard to forget for neighbours of Inclan Street in San Miguel district, Peru. After receiving a complaint, the police found the flat that the association “Searching for Hope” were using to grow marijuana and process it with the purpose of extracting medicinal oil from it. The mothers of the association were administering this oil to their ill relatives, many amongst them kids. The police proceeded to search for several hours while a group of mothers gathered outside of the building waiting for the outcome. Finally, the agents seized 5 kilos of marijuana as well as the hydroponic gear used in the farm and all the tools used in the extraction and manufacturing of cannabis oil.
These mothers showed their courage by overcoming the painful loss of all their production of marijuana. They lost the only means they had to relieve the suffering of their children. In the following days, they started a series of social actions and were joined by many people in the protest. Those actions led to them being included in a committee of experts convened by the Government. The committee is currently meeting to make decisions on medical cannabis regulation on the Andean country.
The “Searching for Hope Peru” organization has helped bring about two important government measures aimed at legalization. On one hand, the aforementioned committee of experts was formed by virtue of R.M. No 096-2017/MINSA of February 16th No 096-2017/MINSA of February 16th. The committee’s mission is to evaluate the medical use of cannabis and propose a series of regulations and mechanisms towards legalization. The committee has 30 days from the day of its constitution to present a final report with their conclusions. The deadline has not been met yet.
The committee of experts is headlined by a representative of the Vice-Ministry of Public Health and includes representatives of the National Health Institute of Peru, the Directorate General for Strategic Interventions in Public Health, the Medical Association of Peru, the Directorate General for Drugs, Medical Supplies and Narcotics (DIGEMID), the Academy of Health, the Academy of Medicine, the Peruvian Association of Neurology, the Peruvian Association of Psychiatry, the Peruvian Association of Oncology and the Association of Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders. Members of the “Searching for Hope” association entered the committee at a late stage, as well as a representative of the Professional Association of Chemists.
On the other hand, the President of the Republic, using the order No 087-2017-PR of February 22nd, asked the President of Parliament to process the draft law 982-2016-PE urgently. aw 982-2016-PE urgently. This law allows the importation, commercialization, and medicinal use of cannabis derivates. The initiative had been stuck in the parliamentary procedure for a long time and “Searching for Hope” has unblocked the project in a very short time.
This draft law also calls for changes on article no. 299 of the Peruvian penal code. This article specifies that a citizen will be able to possess up to 8 gram of marijuana without any sanction. The wanted change, if it should meet sufficient support from parliament, would add the following words to the article: “Being in possession of medical cannabis derivates will also not be punishable, as long as the amount held is necessary for the treatment of the holder’s illness, or the treatment for the illness of a person under the care or guardianship of the holder, always according to the medical specifications on the matter”.
The draft law is a positive step towards legalization, but several experts have pointed out some deficiencies in its enforcement. It is believed the draft law is limited to the import of Sativex. Sativex is a drug obtained from marijuana and can be found under different names. The text establishes a two year period to “evaluate the law’s implementation and determine the possibility of producing the cannabic derivates in Peru”. The lawmakers justify this decision claiming the struggle against drug addictions may be weakened. The experts fear that the high price of Sativex might force most patients to keep resorting to illegal plantations.
A statement posted on social network Facebook by Searching for Hope considers also that the importation of the high-priced standard medicine would make it unaffordable for patients that have used the illegal extracts to date. It also reminds of the important secondary effects of synthetic cannabinoids, and the lower safety standards of these products compared to the phytocannabinoids extracted directly from the plant.
The continuous appearances of “searching for Hope” mothers in the media have built quite a momentum in Peru. Their heartbreaking stories have galvanized the Peruvian society. People were moved when hearing about these kids ailed by serious, rare and chronic illnesses, against which conventional therapies have shown no efficacy. The illnesses go from refractory epilepsy -an illness that shows resistance to antiepileptic and antiseizure drugs- to West’s Syndrome –a rare illness that causes a delay in psychomotor development and epileptic spasms- or tuberous sclerosis, a hereditary illness that produces abnormal masses, similar to tubers, in different body organs and that affects the central nervous system, causing autistic spectrum disorder, delay in development and epileptic crisis. There are numerous studies that substantiate the use of medical cannabis for convulsions, a symptom that all the aforementioned illnesses share.
The committee will hand the Peruvian Government their report with their conclusions in a matter of days, and this magazine will be paying attention to the result. The initiative promoted by “Searching for Hope” joins the movement for legalization of medicinal marijuana in Latin America. This movement has been progressing at a good pace in recent years, on the strength of social activism and mobilization by the different pro cannabis organizations. It has generated legislation in Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Colombia and Chile. Argentina and Mexico are also in the middle of open parliament initiatives for the legalization of medical cannabis. All of these countries, in opposition to Peru’s draft law, promote the national production of derivates along with importation of Sativex, in order to reduce the cost for users and also avoid dependence on transnational producers.
We live in times of change for regulation of medical cannabis. It seems that Governments, especially in Latin America, are slowly beginning to listen to experts and users that have been fighting for years to make their voice heard by administrations. Let the struggle of “Searching for Hope” mothers set an example to all of those who, like us, fight for legalization. Let us all be touched by their combative spirit so that we can reclaim to the top of our lungs what we believe as our right.