Once condemned in the 20th century, the use of medical cannabis is gaining attention in the 21st century. Some states in the United States, some Eastern European countries as well as Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands have reviewed their legislation, allowing cultivation, research, and the therapeutic use of the plant. In some cases, recreational use is also allowed.
The news about successful cases of treatment using medical cannabis began to spread around the world, inspiring doctors and patients from countries with stricter legislation to fight for the right to health and improvement of quality of life of people who could benefit from its use. Inflexibility in many countries leads to illegal actions to obtain pharmaceuticals – including home cultivation –, high and unaffordable costs for many families, and the supply of dubious drugs.
Let’s look at the legalization concerning medical cannabis in Latin America.
Argentina legalized the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and scientific research in March 2017. By law, the Argentine State must ensure access to and importation of weed derivatives to patients with a medical prescription. Among those who benefit from it are people with schizophrenia, autism, and epilepsy. However, due to the difficult access to cannabis, many people still resort to the black market or home cultivation. In 2019, seeds for official cannabis cultivation arrived in Jujuy Province, but there is criticism from local patient and family associations, as a priority of the farm and study center is exportation.
In 2014, Brazilian courts allowed a family to import cannabidiol-rich oil to treat a child with a rare syndrome. In the same year, the Federal Council of Medicine authorized doctors to prescribe cannabidiol for children with epilepsy who did not have success with other treatments. Today, the use of medical cannabis is legalized, but its production is prohibited. Imported drugs are available on medical prescription only and the procedure must be approved by the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa). Access is still restricted by prices and bureaucratic barriers.
Chile allowed cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes through a bill passed in the city of La Florida in 2014. In 2016, the country authorized the manufacture and sale of cannabis-derived substances. In 2017, the first cannabis-based drug was registered and, later, marketed, after its effectiveness and safety was proved. Advances in research and cultivation in the country are supported by universities across the country and the DAYA Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes and researches therapies aimed at alleviating human suffering in the country.
In 2016, Colombia regulated access to cannabis for medical and scientific use in its territory. Colombians can purchase products that are approved by the Ministry of Health. Under the regulatory framework, the Ministries of Health, Justice, and Agriculture controls licensing for the production and marketing of marijuana-based drugs. It is important to note that, with fertile soil and favorable weather conditions, the country produces and exports quality plants and seeds with State regulation.
In Mexico, the medical and scientific use of marijuana was approved in 2017. The country’s Department of Health oversees the development of public policies governing the medicinal use of pharmaceutical cannabis derivatives. It is also responsible for regular research and production. By removing the restriction on cannabis, the measure allows its planting, cultivation, harvesting, preparation, acquisition, possession, trade, transport, supply, employment, and use for medical and scientific purposes, under the terms and conditions of the authorization issued by the Executive.
In 2017, Peru passed the law authorizing the use of medical cannabis, regulated by the country’s Ministry of Health, which created two official records: one for patients with prescriptions, which must include information regarding disease and recommended dose, and another for entities and laboratories authorized to produce it exclusively for medicinal and therapeutic purposes.
The use of medical cannabis in Uruguay was legalized by the government in 2013, the same year that recreational use was authorized. Uruguayan legislation promptly promoted further studies; however, this also lead to pharmaceutical formulations that were not recognized for their scientific rigor or its use without medical supervision, which was not extremely beneficial to the development of cannabis for medicinal purposes. With a small population, the country is very focused on exporting raw materials to the international market.
Discussions on the subject are constantly on the agenda among authorities in these countries, and news about legalizing cannabis in Latin America is imminent.