Following Legalization of Medical Cannabis, Activists Protest Lawmakers to Allow Personal Cultivation

When the Argentine National Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing medicinal cannabis in March, it was cheered by pro-cannabis activists as a progressive step forward. But for many who rely on medicinal cannabis, the law’s prohibition on personal cultivation means the bill doesn’t go far enough to help those in need.

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Following Legalization of Medical Cannabis, Activists Protest Lawmakers to Allow Personal Cultivation

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Mimí (right) stands next to her 14-year-old daughter Agustina (in wheelchair) in Plaza de Mayo, in Buenos Aires. Mimi grows cannabis for her daughter to consume for health reasons. Mimí’s sign states that cannabis is a medicine that saves lives. She asked that her full name not be used because it’s illegal to privately grow cannabis.

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BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — A sea of people moves from the Plaza de Mayo, the main square in this capital city, toward the Argentine National Congress. In the front are mothers with their children and people in wheelchairs. In the middle, people hold an enormous banner.

A cloud of smoke hovers over the back portion of the crowd. Most people there are smoking marijuana, their red eyes covered with sunglasses.

Everyone is here for the same reason: To ask the government to decriminalize private marijuana cultivation. The movement is led in part by mothers whose children suffer from illnesses and diseases that, they believe, marijuana and its related products can help or even cure.

In March, Argentina’s Senate passed a law legalizing the use of medicinal cannabis. A Ministry of Health program called the Programa Nacional para el Estudio y la Investigación del Uso Medicinal de la Planta de Cannabis, created by the new law, will research medicinal cannabis, disseminate information and ensure free access to cannabis oil and other marijuana derivatives for those who qualify.

INSIDE THE STORY: Argentina’s medicinal cannabis bill passed with unanimous support. When a GPJ journalist set out to cover the debate around home cultivation of marijuana – which the bill doesn’t allow – she was challenged to find the balance that GPJ stories are known for. Read the blog.

But the new law doesn’t allow people to grow cannabis in their own homes for medicinal use. Lawmakers say such an allowance would put people’s health at risk and could jeopardize the state’s fight against drug trafficking.

Those who rely on cannabis oil, while pleased at the steps the government has taken to allow use of medicinal cannabis, are frustrated that the new law bars them from growing their own cannabis to treat pain and illnesses.

“We already have the solution in our homes, so why can’t we use it?” says Guillermina Abramoff, member of Mamá Cultiva Argentina, a medicinal cannabis advocacy group.

Abramoff gives her 6-year-old son, Tobías, cannabis resin to control his seizures. He once had as many as 300 seizures each day, but now has very few or none at all, she says.

Some children develop a tolerance for cannabis, Abramoff says.

“Homegrowing is important because of the continual rotations of strains,” she says. “We confirmed that each child needs a different strain, sometimes two, and it’s very difficult to be able to rotate or to have the specific strains they need without homegrowing.”

Leticia M., who asked that only her last initial be used, says she doubts the state will be able to provide all the strains needed to rotate them for patients. Leticia M.’s 9-year-old daughter has epilepsy and relies on homegrown cannabis, she says.

“The point is that if the state is the provider, it has to offer all of the strains to be able to do rotation,” says Leticia.

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Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Adriana Funaro, an advocate of homegrown medicinal cannabis, was jailed then placed under house arrest after she was discovered growing the plant at home. Here, she participates in a march in May in downtown Buenos Aires with other pro-cannabis activists.

Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann, a lawyer and congresswoman who voted in favor of legalizing cannabis for medicinal use, argues that homegrowing is risky for patients.

“We didn’t approve homegrowing because if it is done to produce medicinal cannabis, that would be like allowing people to make their own antibiotics,” she says.

It’s better when the state takes responsibility for providing people with what they need, she says.

Plus, she says, it would send a contradictory message if the government allowed people to grow marijuana in light of the president’s December declaration of a national emergency regarding drug addiction.

Patients must work with doctors when it comes to cannabis-related treatment, Schmidt-Liermann says.

But those who grow cannabis to treat their own conditions remain defiant in the face of the law.

Adriana Funaro joined the march on the Argentine National Congress just a week after she was freed from house arrest for growing marijuana. She cultivates plants for herself and others, including people she says suffer from cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

“It has been a week since I’ve been free and I already began growing again,” she says.

Funaro was arrested after a neighbor complained that she was growing marijuana. She was first jailed, then moved to house arrest because of her severe arthritis. If not for the cannabis oil, she says, she wouldn’t be able to walk.

“Homegrowing is the only way we have to treat many diseases,” says Funaro.

Danielle Mackey, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.