The Green and Silver Mother’s Milk: How Mothers In Argentina Legalized Medicinal Cannabis
Before cannabis, Emiliano, an Argentine boy diagnosed with epilepsy lived his days in a lethargic state, with his mother Valeria Salech, medicinal cannabis activist and founder of Mamá Cultiva Argentina, by his side. Emiliano didn’t answer when called by his name, and his vocabulary was limited for his age.
The mood at Salech’s home changed when Emiliano was eight years old, the first time his epilepsy was medicated with cannabis. Managed by his mother, it took just a few minutes after being given his first dose that he began to laugh. Emiliano is now is an active 14-year-old.
“I heard and I couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing. I called him by his name and he looked at me smiling with playful eyes”, recalled Salech to Cannabis Health. This reality is now shared by many more patients in Argentina after its government legalized the cultivation of medicinal cannabis at the tail end of 2020, following much activism, science, and political struggle.
New Regulations Increase Access
In 2017, a law legalizing the use and research of medicinal cannabis and its derivatives was passed in Argentina. Last year the legislation went further when new regulations were issued pointing to self-cultivation and safe access.
“The matter of medicinal cannabis came to the Congress through the fundamental demand of organized mothers of children suffering from epilepsy and in need of the authorization to consume medicinal cannabis”, Congresswoman Mara Brawer told Cannabis Health.
Brawer is a psychologist, educator, and member of the centre-left party Frente de Todos. Alongside Congresswoman Carolina Gaillard, she was one of two key politicians who supported medicinal cannabis progress. Currently, she advocates for the legalization of industrial hemp.
As pointed out by Argentine sociologist and researcher Lucía Romero, these new regulations only emerged after much interaction and exchange between scientists, cultivation NGOs, patients, and consumers of cannabis.
Published at the Official Gazette on November 12, 2020, the decree authorizes four ways to access the medicine: self-cultivation, solidarity cultivation (not unlike a designated grower in Canada), social organizations or cooperatives, and pharmacies. It also creates the Registry for Cannabis Program (Reprocann).
The document also expands the list of pathologies and specialists who can use cannabis, and allows universities to research cannabis without acquiring permission from the government.
“This ends up outlining a law that is more inclined to address and bring access and production, unlike the previous regulation that was focused only on research”, said Romero.
Mothers, Patients, Women Spearhead Change
In 2019, Romero authored the paper Medicinal Cannabis in Argentina for Pharmacy in History, published by the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. The author told Cannabis Health that the ‘big bang’ of the movement in the South American country began at the dawn of the last decade.
“Cannabis legalization in Argentina saw its first impulses inside a movement to legalize the cannabis plant for all of its uses, ignited by the activist women that lived with HIV/AIDS and were able through the use of marijuana to achieve a better quality of life: Brenda Chignoli and Edith Moreno”, recounted Romero.
In 2012, Chignoli founded the Movimiento Cannábico Manuel Belgrano (Manuel Belgrano Cannabis Movement) in the Córdoba province. Together with Moreno, hailing from Cogollos del Oeste in the Buenos Aires province, the two women were among the first social organizers to spread the idea of legalization. Romero also points to spearheading doctors in cannabis research including Marcelo Morante, who studied under Canadian Mark Ware, and Martín Randazzo.
The current regulation stipulates that private, semi-private and public healthcare providers must guarantee, and when appropriate, secure, access to medicinal cannabis for patients who qualify. The previous measure created extreme hardships around access, as well as heightened financial barriers. Now, Prohibition Partners has signalled that the Argentine cannabis market could see close to $40 million in sales in just three years, growing at a 34 percent per year.
After Chignoli and Moreno, a second wave of activists formed five years ago that would influence the restructuring of the 2017 law. It counts among its lines Salech’s Mamá Cultiva Argentina, which formed in 2016 and follows the model of Mamá Cultiva Chile, and Cannabis Medicinal Argentina CAMEDA, led by Ana María García Nicora, a physician and mother who has medicated her daughter Julieta with medicinal cannabis since 2015.
According to Romero, both women were instrumental in influencing the 2017 law, which was also supported by researchers Silvia Kochen and Marcelo Rubinstein and physicians Marcelo Morante and Carlos Magdalena, among others.
“Medicinal cannabis prohibition led to many severe situations. Many families without access to the product had to rely on mothers that cultivated it for their own children,” affirmed Congresswoman Brawer on the previous state of the cannabis law.
“In many instances we’ve had mothers arrested by the police for cultivating cannabis to produce oil for their children. This prohibition brought a lot of damage and pain to the families.”
Argentina: Marching Towards A Brighter Future
The tide started to change when public opinion became more acquainted with the mothers’ plight.
“For us, the social acceptance was fundamental and it came after the 2017 law, which wasn’t a good one, after it was unanimously approved by the two Congress chambers. It pushed families to discuss cannabis at home, leading society to speak about marijuana not as a drug or as a menace but as a therapeutic alternative”, said Salech.
Another turning point was when the media began to approach the story through a health perspective, focusing on the collectives of cultivation activists “that have been fighting for years for plant regulations that consider people’s individual rights,” she added.
These societal changes didn’t come without opposition, which finds its face in conservative and elitist sectors of Argentine civil society. Medicinal cannabis was a cause easier to swallow for conservative health professionals, scientists and politicians because of the group that is often plagued by pathologies: mothers and children.
A public campaign from Mamá Cultiva called Ponete en Mis Zapatos (Walk in my Shoes) helped convince public figures from different social areas, “such as sports, politics, arts, music, and academics”, affirms Romero, while opposition in media was still held by “few far-right, almost fascist, journalists.” Brawer pointed out that such campaigns did have an influence as its usual political rivals didn’t hold the “absolute opposition” to cannabis they once did, especially after more of the country warmed to its medicinal properties.
“It will always be the same sector that denies to acknowledge that the prohibition and the drug wars failed, be it by economic, moral, or ideological reasons. We know that they exist and will always exist and the only thing we can do is express our convictions”, said Salech, who defends the right to health access on this issue when debating with antagonists.
“We know that these voices will accept little by little that prohibition is a presumption of immaturity and doesn’t translate into an informed and reasonable society like ours”, she added.
‘All Care Is Political’
Also at the end of 2020, Argentina legalized abortion for people who were at 14 weeks of pregnancy, after the scandalous case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped and forced to give birth. With both decisions, Argentina comes out as one of the most progressive countries in Latin-America.
Congresswoman Brawer said she doesn’t see many ties in aforementioned regulations but acknowledged both are “progressive in rights; the right to abort and the right to use a plant which is proved to be helpful in treating health — but I wouldn’t relate both matters.”
On the other hand, Romero believes both advances can be seen as intersectional. “Among the cannabis activists there was a lot of activism and positioning towards feminism,” she said.
Salech sees that both milestones have to do, “with the decisions over the body, its autonomy; and they speak to a mature society and the political will to follow it.” One of Mamá Cultiva’s t-shirts bears the phrase “Todo Cuidado es Político” (All Care is Political) and the symbol of feminism.
Salech traces the modern Argentine feminist and motherhood struggles to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), which formed to bring attention to and protest the disappearance of political activists during the Argentine dictatorship (1976 to 1983), and still marches on. For her, children’s health care has several intersectionalities with the feminist struggle.
To Romero, the legalization of abortion and medicinal cannabis, “are politicized hailing from maternity… in Argentina the identification of Mother, as a struggle symbol, recognizes a very strong experience in the Mothers from Mayo Square.”
Brawer puts that the struggle of medicinal cannabis is “composed (mostly) by women because in the 21st century we, women, are still those responsible to care for future generations; hence, it is mostly women who care for their children, their diseases and rights.”
“When our society becomes more egalitarian the struggles will be shared with men and women, which is the objective that all (women) have”, concluded the politician.
In the South American medicinal cannabis scene, Argentina comes behind Uruguay and Colombia, yet it can influence countries like Brazil, which languishes in a pool of far-right ignorance and hatred.
The name of Argentina comes from argentum, Latin for “silver”, a colour that in some cultures symbolizes the future. Argentina with its law is bringing a green and silver future for its nation, region, and children like Emiliano and Julieta.