Peru voted last week to legalize the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of specific medical conditions. The bill received overwhelming support from the otherwise conservative congress, with 68 voting in its favor and only 5 opposing and 3 abstaining.
The medical marijuana bill is now waiting for President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s approval. After that, the government will have 60 days to draft and establish regulations pertaining to the production and sale of marijuana. The new legislation will then be enacted afterwards.
The path to decriminalization
Peru started seriously debating over its medical marijuana policy in February this year, after authorities raided and shut down a makeshift and home-based lab where a small association of mothers – called Buscando Esperanza – made cannabis oils to treat their children who are suffering from cancer, epilepsy, and other medical conditions. What happened to the mothers and their kids’ medicine sparked public outrage and gained media attention, and protesters demanded that medical marijuana be finally legalized.
After the incident, President Kuczynski proposed the relaxation of its cannabis policies.
The bill was then introduced by Congressman Alberto de Belaunde over the summer. The Health Committee approved the proposal on October 11.
Provisions of the bill
The medical marijuana bill will allow those with certain qualifying conditions, like cancer, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s Disease, to use marijuana or its derivatives as part of their treatment program.
Moreover, the proposed measure would permit the domestic cultivation and storage of medical marijuana products with strict oversight and monitoring by a regulatory committee composed of the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Health, along with a panel of appointed marijuana experts.
Buscando Esperanza pleased with bill’s approval but still concerned
Buscando Esperanza founder Ana Alvarez, whose 17-year-old son suffers from a severe and rare form of epilepsy, said that they are happy that lawmakers approved the bill. However, she expressed dissatisfaction and concern over the legislation not going far enough and not prioritizing the needs of patients.
According to her, they would want associations like the Buscando Esperanza to be included and legally allowed to produce medical marijuana products, too. The new bill is only allowing strictly regulated domestic production of cannabis oil, ruling out organizations like theirs.
Alvarez is also worried about the new legislation allowing imported medical marijuana products to be sold in the country. She said that imported marijuana products are very expensive, and a lot of those who truly need the medication could not afford it. The homemade oil produced by Buscando, she said, was made for just a fraction of the cost of imported marijuana, and it also came in different varieties for the personalized use of patients. Alvarez added that allowing local producers like them to make their own cannabis products would be less costly and more efficient.
Belaunde agreed, saying that he intends to include a provision later in the regulations that allows patients’ associations to make their own cannabis oil. He added that it could be possible with the help and partnership of universities.
Belaunde had also earlier said that he is working to have all the charges against the Buscando Esperanza mothers dropped.
Peru’s current marijuana policy and drug culture
Marijuana is generally considered illegal in Peru. The possession of under 8 grams of marijuana is deemed for personal use and is therefore not penalized. Meanwhile, the production, cultivation, or sale of the substance is punishable by 8 to 15 years in jail.
The new legislation will see a change to these.
The bill had originally been controversial because of the country’s problem with drugs gangs that are involved in the productions of cocaine. It is worth noting that Peru is the world’s second largest producer of cocaine, next to Colombia, and has a flourishing illegal drug trade.