On Thursday, Argentina legalized medical marijuana, after the Senate unanimously approved a bill that was already passed by the House of Representatives last November. The law establishes a new regulatory framework that enables scientific and medical marijuana research, while providing marijuana to qualifying patients free of charge.
“It’s heartening to see Argentina prioritizing accessibility by providing medical marijuana at no cost to patients,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill was long championed by families and patients whose suffering has been alleviated with medical marijuana, and it’s a relief they’ve finally been heard.”
The bill was promoted by a group of 136 Argentine families who petitioned the government to allow them to use marijuana to treat their children, who struggle with epilepsy, autism and other ailments. The parents maintain that the effectiveness of marijuana treatment not only improves the quality of life of their children, but also for the entire families that tend to them on a daily basis.
The new proposal stipulates that the Ministry of Health will be charged with creating a national registry of patients and family members who will receive the marijuana-based medicine they need free of charge. The government will oversee cultivation and production of multiple varieties of marijuana-based products for both medical use and research via the National Agency of Public Laboratories. Until the law is fully implemented, the Ministry of Health is permitted to import marijuana products to satisfy demand.
Individuals, however, are still not allowed to grow marijuana. This remains an offense punishable with up to 15 years in prison when intended for commercial purposes, and up to two years if the authorities deem it is for personal use.
Ana Maria Garcia Nicora, President of Medical Cannabis Argentina (CAMEDA) says that this is the next step for the legalization movement: “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.”
Legal medical marijuana has gained traction in Latin America in recent years. Uruguay legalized both medical and non-medical marijuana use in 2013; Chile has become the first Latin American country to cultivate marijuana for oncology patients; Colombia and Puerto Rico legalized medical marijuana through Executive Orders; Jamaica has decriminalized marijuana for medical, scientific and religious uses; Mexico and Brazil allow for the import of marijuana-derived medicines; and medical marijuana bills are being discussed in Costa Rica and Peru.
In the United States, meanwhile, 28 states have passed laws allowing access to medical marijuana. Eight of those states also legally regulate marijuana production and sales to adults 21 and over.