This past week in Peru, Congress voted in favor of a bill to legalize medical cannabis, allowing cannabis oil to be produced locally, imported and sold.

With a vote of 68-5, the approved bill is set to be written in 60 days, once the regulations for producing and selling cannabis has been established.

Two women who took a chance

The sudden change of heart for Peru’s congress began after a turn of events. Ana Alvarez, a dental technician, and mother of four converted her flat in Lima into a cannabis laboratory in a desperate attempt to alleviate her son Anthony’s multiple daily seizures.

Her home not only became a cannabis lab but also became a hub for informal medical practice where patients could be prescribed cannabis derivatives as a palliative for terminal illness, cancer or multiple sclerosis.

Ana’s son Anthony, who is 17 years old, suffers from a rare and severe form of epilepsy called Lennoz-Gastaut syndrome, as well as tuberous sclerosis, which causes tumors to grow on the brain and other organs.  Anthony was taking over 17 pharmaceutical drugs which had little to no effect, and after a psychotic episode last year, Ana was ready to try anything, so she turned to cannabis.

After only three days of taking cannabis oil, Anthony began to eat, sleep, and he even started to socialize again. This started her journey of becoming one of Peru’s leading advocates for liberalizing drug laws in the conservative country.

Ana Alvarez gives her son Anthony a spoonful of marijuana oil to soothe the symptoms of tuberous sclerosis and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome at her house in Lima, Peru, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo/File Photo
With another mother whose son had the same clinical condition as Anthony, she formed Buscando Esperanza (Searching for Hope) which campaigns for medicinal cannabis.

Dorothy Santiago, a 29-year-old naval officer, began questioning the mixture of drugs she was administering to her five-year-old son on a daily basis when she accidentally dropped her son’s medicine onto her face and felt a burning sensation.

After seeing the positive results from both of their son’s they wanted to make sure this medicine was available to other children with the same condition.

Buscando Esperanza has more than 200 members and many members meet with Dr. Juan Lock in the informal surgery next to Alvarez’s flat.

Back in February 2017, the police raided Alvarez’s flat, which was used as Buscando Esperanza’s medical cannabis lab. This created media attention and sparked public outrage including public protests, including a march on Congress and testimonies from celebrities. Which in turn, prompted Peru’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, to propose legalizing medical cannabis for the “treatment of serious and terminal illnesses”.

The Bill

Although the bill is a massive step for advancement for medical cannabis in Peru, the bill does not support associations like Buscando Esperanza to continue producing cannabis oil. This, in turn, could lead to increased pricing from importing cannabis derivatives which would make it hard on patients to afford the medicine and would limit the availability of strains available for medical purposes.

Congressman Alberto De Belaunde, the author of the bill, does hope to find a way for patient’s associations like Buscando Esperanza to produce their own oil. The potential solution is to allow partnerships with university programs. The bill will not be a final product. It will be open to legal change pending how effective the new law is. At this time, Congressman Alberto De Belaunde is working on removing the records for both Ana and Dorothy who were both prosecuted for drug trafficking after the police raid.

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